With over 100 hours of video uploads on YouTube every 60 seconds, more than 4.75 billion pieces of content on Facebook every 24 hours, and 500 million new tweets per day, marketing on social media can seem daunting. But, social media is an awesome leveler: any company can shine, regardless of brand awareness or marketing budget. What it takes is a clever idea and skillful execution.

You Can’t Just Put TV Ads on YouTube

“People no longer want a lot of information about the products or brands in the advertisements they watch,” says Thales S. Teixeira, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who has spent the last four years figuring out the factors that make or break online ads. “In the past, when a company launched a new product, the advertisement would include all the information about the product so you could discover whether you wanted to buy it. But now we have all the information about all the new products available to us online. Now, we want ads to entertain us,” Teixeria says in a Harvard Business School blog.  You cannot expect the same ad that plays well on television to translate online.  Each is a unique channel, and brands that succeed online craft content that is specific to a digital environment. Trying to use traditional advertising online, like online banner ads for instance, simply doesn’t work on younger generation consumers. Creative marketing is no longer forced into a 30-second spot: successful online ads can be minutes long and involve immersive storytelling.  So what makes a successful online ad?

Successful Advertising Campaigns Trigger a Strong Emotional Response

Because online media is something that consumers choose to watch and share, it is an opportunity for brands to create an emotional connection with consumers. To maximize viewership, it is important to generate an emotional hook or surprise early on. Traditional advertising constructs narratives that escalate toward a dramatic climax or a surprise ending. Such commercials may have worked on TV decades ago, but today’s online viewers need to be hooked in the opening seconds. Viewers are most likely to continue watching a video ad if they experience emotional ups and downs—much the way a movie generates suspense by alternating tension and relief.  Remember that 2010 “Swear Jar” video?

It made skillful use of this emotional roller-coaster technique. Every six seconds or so, the surprise and humor holds on to its viewers.  A similar technique was used in this ad:


Shared Ads Include Multiple Social Motivators

Traditional advertising, which relies heavily on brand awareness, can turn online consumers away. A survey last year found that only 6% of Millennials believe that online ads are credible. Millennials especially, have an aversion to being persuaded, and when they see a logo, they resist. Smart advertisers unobtrusively weave the brand image throughout the ad, which can increase viewership by as much as 20%, states a Harvard Business Review article.  In Evian’s “Baby and Me” video above, only at the end of the 77-second video do we see a bottle of Evian, along with the slogan “Live young.” Similarly, note the subtle brand imaging in Always’ #LikeaGirl campaign:

Or, Misty Copeland in an Under Armor ad:

Businesses that resonate with younger generations project themselves as clever, transparent, authentic, and have some positive social impact.  Advertising should appeal to diversity, individualism, innovation and the visual imagery should reflect ethnic and racial diversity, changing family structures, and gender roles. (Read more about about marketing to Millenials here.)  Consider cardstore.com’s Mother’s Day ad:

The campaign continued engaging its audience by asking  mothers to add more content to the job description on the company’s blog. Enthusiastic moms posted pictures and comments with the hashtag #World’sToughestJob and the clever ad employed humor, surprise, emotional appeal, diversity, all while keeping the company’s logo subtle.

The Dove Beauty Sketches video is an uplifting promotional video which strikes a chord with consumers and generated millions of viewers and close to 3.8 million shares during its first month online. Its impact spread across traditional media as well, resulting in an onslaught of print features, broadcast news segments and online discussions, not to mention more than a dozen parody videos.

Viral Isn’t Always Better

Millennials are extremely focused on peer affirmation and the companies leveraging social media influencers and peer groups can be highly effective.  But, a  viral video is not necessary for an ad to be considered successful. A video with 200,000 views (in comparison to Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches,” which garnered over 100 million views) can be successful if the right 200,000 people are viewing it. This is an important concept shared between traditional advertising and online advertising.  It is a brand’s unique challenges that should drive creativity and the metrics by which success should be measured.

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