A viral video is a joy to watch … literally. Three Harvard researchers used infrared eye-tracking and facial expression analysis to divine what traits viral videos have in common. The answer: Well-timed experiences of joy and surprise.
Online video advertising is exploding and it’s no wonder. The power and reach of a successful video campaign – even if it doesn’t go viral – is too compelling for organizations to ignore. According to comScore data, online views of video ads doubled to 7.5 billion in February from a year earlier.
“We found that keeping viewers involved depends in large part on two emotions: joy and surprise,” explains Thales Teixeira, assistant professor of marketing at Harvard Business School and co-author of The New Science of Viral Ads, Harvard Business Review. “To maximize viewership, it’s important to generate at least one of these responses early on.”
The study isolated three challenges that successful videos must overcome:
1. Overly prominent branding ‒ While viewers tend to focus on logos, as well as actors’ faces and eyes, they have an unconscious aversion to being persuaded. They are more likely to stop watching a video with overly prominent branding. Instead, branding should be subtly embedded into the visual narrative.
2. People get bored quickly ‒ Videos that quickly elicited joyful or surprised reactions from viewers were more likely to be watched. Their interest must be captured within seconds.
3. Even interested viewers stop watching after a while ‒ Once drawn in by an experience of joy or surprise, viewers craved more stimulation. The most successful videos generated intermittent emotional highs combined with brief emotionally quiet periods, alternating tension and relief in the storytelling fashion of a movie.
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