What causes an ad to go viral? From the slew of Old Spice commercials, to The Dollar Shave Club, to my all-time favorite, the Cadbury Gorilla back in 2007, unleashing a viral ad has become the holy grail of online marketing. This is largely because there is no way to ensure achievement aside from genuine interest as people watch and share content.
The most recent to join the ranks of online gold is Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. I’ll admit that I shed a tear (or ten) the first time I watched the video ad “Real Beauty Sketches.” Maybe it’s that most women can relate to the idea of thwarted self-perception or maybe it evokes a sense of female camaraderie—whatever it is, it worked. The campaign went viral almost immediately, and has resulted in nearly 35 million YouTube views from fans and critics, media attention around the world and even a spot-on parody featuring a similar experiment with men.
If you haven’t seen Dove Real Beauty Sketches, the ad features a forensic sketch artist drawing women as they describe themselves and then as they are described by a new acquaintance. The results are starkly different and prompt the tagline “You’re more beautiful than you think.”
While there’s no magic recipe for creating an ad that will go viral, Lucas Watson, VP of global video sales at YouTube, says that there are a few common ground rules to follow that can help strike a chord with YouTube viewers.
- Appeal to Humanity
“The work has to be grounded in great human insight—people who understand the audience who they serve," Watson says. The Dove campaign succeeded so wildly because of its powerful human element; it increases our empathy with one another. The more an ad accomplishes this, the more likely are we to share it with friends.
- Inspire Discussion
While inspiring discussion may seem obvious, it can be harder to accomplish than you’d think. Watson refers to this as creative tension. “The question is: Have you struck a chord, a creative tension that’s going to spark interest, debate, dialogue, or polarization among the audience? That’s the second condition."
- Connect Emotionally
"The third thing is, have you addressed something that I’d call universal human truth?” says Watson. Think about your target audience, consider what they really care about and make sure to include this in your ad. “I don’t think it’s an accident that a lot of viral videos include babies, dogs, or relationships between men and women."
Whether you love it or hate it, Dove’s variations on its “Real Beauty” campaign embody these three qualities. Through the years, Dove’s message has continued to resonate with its target audience.
The ads inspire discussion among those critics who feel they mostly saw women fitting a traditional mold of beauty, as well as those who don’t like women being portrayed as their own worst critics. Such varied opinions only generate more attention and discussion for the campaign.
Finally the ad hits home emotionally, especially for women, by pushing us to think about our own self-image and the insecurities most of us face.
By Julie Van Antwerpen