Call us bored and over-inquisitive…but we wanted to know what makes a commercial video tick, click and stick with viewers. So we watched and tested 1,592 pieces of popular online promotional footage. What we discovered…Hmmm…Well, check it out—you won’t believe your eyes!
1) Include babies
- Who doesn’t love a video featuring an adorable baby? We cherish our little ones, and seeing them reminds us of our own childhood, our children, and the web of social relationships woven into things like pregnancy, birth and parenthood. Babies are potent elements in direct marketing, especially online and TV advertising, says John A. Deighton, a content-marketing expert at Harvard Business School.To create a memorable toddler video:
- Show a sweet, happy baby face [Huggies, “Be Happy” (2006)].
- Display typical “baby cues,” such as purity, innocence, love and fragility.
- Place the infant in a role that makes viewers say “Aw… so cute!”
- Use familiar signals, such as toys, pampers and mother-baby bonding.
- Apply good-natured humor [Evian, “Live Young” (2009)].
- Insert toddlers in an adult context. For example, make them worry about the vicissitudes of grown-up life—think finances [E-Trade, “Broken Wings” (2009)], work, physical appearance, sex appeal and stress.
2) Inject (funny) humor
You’ve read it right: funny humor! No tautology here. We all know it when we see bad, offensive or misplaced humor—the type of pseudo-hilarity that borders on absurdity or triggers adversity. Hell no! You want fun and funniness, that is, content that makes you chuckle, not just the first time you watch it, but every time.
To invent the drollest video ever:
· Make sure you, the producer, giggle whenever you watch it.
· Create a piece of comedy that entertains your audience [Cadbury, “Gorilla” (2007)].
· Tickle your viewers’ funny bone so much, they not only laugh out loud, they also call friends and tell them “Hey, you gotta watch this!” [John West Salmon, “Bear” (2000)].
· Produce unconventional yet familiar amusement and make viewers get the plot right away [Wendy’s, “Where’s the Beef?” (1984)].
· Shy away from dry mirth and “heavy” or controversial subjects—for example, no macho joke that your ebullient uncle Teddy makes every year at Thanksgiving, and then proceeds to laugh by himself.
Ever wondered how The Walt Disney Company built an entertainment colossus that for several decades has drawn accolades from people of all ages? (Hint: Think about Disney’s tens of animal characters, as well as how the company astutely conceives, designs and promotes them.) People love animals, especially domestic pets, so wow your audience by cleverly displaying four-legged creatures in your video.
To conceive the catchiest pet video ever:
- Use cues that viewers know (for example, dogs are known for unconditional loyalty).
- Shun “exotic” animals; don’t display a giant green anaconda even if you love reptiles.
- Humanize pets, but in a funny way [Dog-E-Glow, “Work Hard, Glow Hard (2013)], [Bouygues Telecom; “Kitten Telecoms” (2011)].
- Use four-legged beings in social situations—people think of their canine and feline cutie pies as family, and thus would quickly relate to your scenario.
- Make viewers feel a sense of deja vu, but insert a witty touch. For example, Bud Light’s “rescue dog” fetches beer at the owner’s party [Bud Light, “Rescue Dog” (2012)].
Life events generate fantastic, unforgettable social tidbits that are inspiration fountains you can drink from when creating your video. You have leeway in how you cover an event, but avoid anything controversial, inappropriate or offensive. Use memorable life events, such as births, birthdays and weddings but also promotions, first dates, sports events and children’s extracurricular activities.
To produce a grabbing social video:
- Use emotion abundantly.
- Cover a key social event with a witty tone [T-Mobile, “The Royal Wedding” (2009)].
- Connect the existential dots nicely so viewers can relate to your film. For example, if you talk about graduation, viewers would expect elements of hope; sense of achievement; personal satisfaction; and gratitude towards teachers, family and friends.
- Make sure the message connects with your audience, is easily recalled, and fits within social expectations [Gatorade, “You Win From Within” (2012)].
- Apply odd comical ploys, but don’t confuse viewers [Chevy, “Graduation Gift” (2012)].
Human bonding is a staple of life, so tap into social experiences to draw your video inspiration. The way you display human relationships is only limited by your imagination, creative flair and primary objective. Use vivid phrases; emotional cues; the active voice; and strong verbs like win, dance, grow, care, hope and dream. See how South Africa’s Absa Bank uses the word “prosper” in its ad [ABSA, “Prosper” (2012)].
To create a sparkling bonding video, use one of these scenarios:
- Adult intimacy—if possible, with wit [Pfizer, “Viagra – Pump It Up” (2006)]
- Mom and newborn, with an emotional twist [Babi Mild, “The Mother Instinct” (2010)]
- Dad playing with offspring
- Grandmother reviewing the family album with grandchildren
- Multi-generational display: grandparent, parent and children
- Fun times with colleagues and friends
Want viewers to adore your video and keep it going and going and going? Well, you need no battery-powered bunny from Energizer. Just look at today’s ads and marketing trends, and you’d certainly notice that often the best spokespeople aren’t people at all. Companies such as Disney and Sesame Street have built economic empires with animal icons. So it makes sense to humanize wildlife in your mini-film.
To make viewers love your wildlife video:
- Humanize wild animals, but stick to cues viewers are already familiar with. [Budweiser, “Clydesdale Super Bowl commercial” (2006)].
- Be creative, unconventional, witty and innovative [Rolo, “Elephant” (1996)].
- Make your audience laugh, cry, call a friend, or want to hug their loved ones.
- Add humor. Do viewers love wildlife humor? Hell yeah. In fact, your video will score well if you have a catchy slogan, a grabbing tagline and an adorable animal.
- Don’t try to make sense. Just make the video outstanding [Cadbury, “Gorilla” (2007)].
Ever heard of Chicago-based ad agency Leo Burnett Co.? Maybe not, but you know some of the company’s brainchildren, such as Marlboro Man and McDonald’s Ronald. Follow the company’s footsteps and create an icon that conveys your message memorably. For example, the Michelin Man has been one of the most recognizable icons in the world since 1898 [Michelin, “The Right Tire Changes Everything” (2012)].
To make your icon hit viral bonanza:
- Ensure the character fits with your message [Energizer Bunny, “Darth Vader” (1994)]
- Use cues that resonate with viewers, such as cultural affect, effectiveness, longevity and recognizability. [McDonald’s, “Ronald’s Got Time For You” (1986)]
- Favor animals or animated characters.
- Ensure the video is appropriate for a younger audience.
- Avoid clichés or offensive depictions of a specific cultural or social group.
To create a popular humanity-oriented video:
- Use soothing, fitting music—and reduce spoken content.
- Apply familiar moral cues, such as justice, fairness and good vs. bad.
- Make viewers weep, think or feel uneasy about the status quo (but don’t push it too far) [Compassion International, “Child Poverty” (2006)].
- Involve animals in your film; humaneness applies to other living beings, too. [Greenpeace, “Save the Arctic” (2012)]
- Show that good deeds are never useless [Truemove H, “Giving” (2013)]
An effective tagline serves many purposes, but it always lingers in viewers’ minds. Slogans such as “Think different,” “You can help” or “The Ultimate driving machine” have resonated with consumers for decades. And it’s no coincidence why they lasted that long. A grabbing slogan makes a big splash, hooks viewers, makes them think, rubs the deepest parts of their neurons…—you get the point.
To create an appealing slogan:
- Be concise (as in: “Just do it,” “Got Milk?” or “Where’s the beef?”).
- Make it inspirational and aspirational [DeBeers, “A Diamond Is Forever” (1997)].
- Let it be a call to action [Nike, “Just Do It – Possibilities” (2013)].
- Test the tagline with family or friends, and see if they remember it after one month.
- Add wit and humor to the video [America’s Dairy Farmers, “Got Milk” (1996)].
Competition is fierce in the commercial jungle, but the “law of jingle” says that if you’re creative, you can implant a tune in your viewers’ brains—forever [Budweiser, “When You Say Budweiser, You’ve Said It All” (1973)]. A catchy jingle is so important, companies are willing to pay nearly $200,000 for a single song, and more than half a million if the tune becomes a hit. Can’t get more alluring than that!
- To make history with your jingle:
- Make it concise (less than 60 seconds), culture-neutral and enticing to people of all ages.
- Favor short, fast-rhythmed and emotion-laden tunes—they stay in viewers’ minds longer.
- Make it inspirational [O. M. Wiener, “I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener” (1965)].
- Compose a tune with a catchy sentence [Alka-Seltzer, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” (1954)].
- Make it easily memorable and appealing to the most basic human qualities and psychological states: joy, patience, courage, optimism, compassion and the like.
- Grab your audience’s attention [Nestle “Makes the very best” (1953)].
When was the last time you watched a video and then thought about it all day long, for several days, every now and then, or even after a few years? With an effective ad, you can draw your viewers into the story and puzzle them with special effects [Nissan, “Break Glass in Case of Adventure” (2009)] or everyday situations that have an extraordinary twist [McDonald, “Steam in Bus Shelters” (2009)].
To create an effective, brain-twisting ad:
- Make the question clear and the thinking process simple; you don’t want your video to be loved only by people with a doctorate degree or stratospheric IQ.
- Insert a call to action—something gripping enough for viewers not only to act but also feel compelled to share it with others.
- Reward uniqueness or unconventional ways of doing regular things. For example, Apple astutely draws viewers’ attention to key historical figures, noting that while some may have been ostracized or vilipended, they nonetheless changed our world [Apple, “Think Different” (1997)].
- Challenge your audience with “big concepts,” such as “Save the Earth,” “Ending Poverty,” “Justice for All,” “Fight Domestic Violence,” etc.
We bet you want to know our opinion on the best way to create an effective video. Well, coming up with a winner certainly wasn’t easy, given the genius and artistic thrill we felt in all 1,592 videos reviewed.
Before we let you go to produce that killer video or sparkling commercial—and make your viewers giggle, cry, bond, act…—just remember this: What you need first and foremost is not substantial cash, but a massive dose of creativity, unconventional wit, idiosyncratic mirth, audacity, humor… and a knack for testing uncharted territory.
So what have we learned here—and what makes a commercial video memorable? There are certainly 1 million answers to this question, but for us the response is clear and brief: it is an ad that makes you remember both the product and the ad itself. Typically, people tend to remember the commercial, not the product. (How many times have you said, “I saw this wonderful commercial, can’t remember exactly what it was for—but Boy, was it catchy!)
So, just remember to convey your message clearly so that viewers first remember your product/service and brand. If they also recall the ad itself, that’s a bonus.
We’ve found that the best and most popular commercials always combine three or more of the 11 features mentioned in this report—with humor, toddlers and pets sitting atop viewers’ favorites, as they almost invariably bring commercial bonanza to the sponsoring brand.
As promised…our favorite commercial video is this one.
What do you think? Do you agree?