With the increased focus on and use of video for brand and product advertising, companies and marketers are increasingly looking for ways to “stand out from the crowd” and increase their video reach. One such way to accomplish this has been through the use of viral advertising, or video advertising campaigns that see viewers as active participants in the process who then spread the company’s message throughout their own social network. Despite the popularity of this form of advertising, it is unclear what exactly makes a viral campaign successful. Some advertisers and marketers believe it is shock value, while others believe that creating overly sensational and edgy videos runs the risk of isolating and creating negative viewer reactions.
Petya Eckler, of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa, and Paul Bolls, of the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, wanted to know whether the emotional tone of a viral video ad impacted viewer attitudes toward the ad itself and the brand, as well as whether it impacted intent to forward the ad by viewers. To answer these questions, study participants viewed four real-life viral ads from three emotional tone categories – pleasant, unpleasant, and coactive – for a total of 12 ads viewed per participant. Ads with overall positive message content were categorized as “pleasant,” ads with overall negative message content were categorized as “unpleasant,” and ads with an equal amount of both positive and negative message content were categorized as “coactive.”
Results indicated that attitudes toward the ad itself and the brand, as well as intent to forward the ad, were all similarly impacted by the emotional tone of the viral video ad. Pleasant viral ads (i.e., positive tone) created the most positive ad and brand attitudes, as well as increased willingness to forward, coactive viral ads (i.e., mixed positive and negative tone) resulted in less favorable attitudes and decreased willingness to forward, and unpleasant viral ads (i.e., negative tone) had the least favorable attitudes toward the ad and brand, as well as the lowest willingness to forward.
These findings suggest that rather than going for shock value or relying on scare tactics, advertisers and marketers should instead aim to create viral video ads with messages that have an overall positive emotional tone. Eckler and Bolls do acknowledge that more research is needed regarding the specific reasons these differences exist, as well as whether the results from this study generalize across organizations and brands. For example, they suggest that perhaps an “unpleasant tone may have a more significant impact for health messages, in which the communication of physical threats may more powerfully drive attitudes and intentions.” Ultimately, the authors conclude that the emotional tone of viral advertising videos directly impacts attitudes toward the ads themselves, the brands they represent, and their chances of being forwarded.
To read the full text of the study: https://strathprints.strath.ac.uk/44561/1/JIAD_Viral_videos.pdf
Eckler, P. & Bolls, P. (2011). “Spreading the Virus: Emotional Tone of Viral Advertising and Its Effect on Forwarding Intentions and Attitudes.” Journal of Interactive Advertising, 11(2), 1-11.