Emotion plays a huge part in how we, as consumers, operate. Our emotions drive our purchasing decisions, trigger our actions, and direct our beliefs. It stands to reason therefore that the emotion a brand or campaign elicits directly contributes to its market success.
Eliciting an emotional response is an essential part of all marketing campaigns because, as humans, we’re emotional at our very core. So it’s human nature that we want to share experiences that evoke deep emotions with others.
But not all emotions are created equal. So what are the key emotional triggers for online video success?
In 2011, Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman published a piece of research called What Makes Online Content Viral? which we reviewed at the time. The key finding concerning emotions was that content containing high-arousal emotions, whether positive or negative, has greater viral potential than that containing low-arousal emotions.
Essentially, this means the key emotional triggers are those that evoke a strong physiological response. So content that makes us smile won’t necessarily make us share, but if it has us laughing out loud, we’re far more likely to hit the share button. Similarly, if something makes us frown or irritates us, we’re less likely to share than if it makes us angry.
The research carried out by Berger and Milkman also concludes that positive high-arousal emotions, such as awe and hilarity, are more shareable than negative high-arousal emotions like anger.
Awe is the safest and most reliable emotional trigger for online video success. Awe is something remarkable, something that makes you sit back and say ‘wow!’ There are many ways to evoke a sense of awe in video content: it could be an uplifting story, a tale of a true-life remarkable event, a creative invention, or a labour-intensive project.
Here are some recent examples of videos with the wow! factor.
Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Epic Splits video for Volvo Trucks is simply breathtaking. The stunt was set up to show the human body at its limits as the 53-year-old actor performs his epic splits in between two reversing Volvo trucks.
Published on 13 November 2013, the video has racked up over 51 million views within the first ten days of its release. That’s some wow! factor.
The next example is Honda’s awesome optical illusion video.
In the month or so since its release, it’s been watched over 4 million times as viewers are captivated by the illusions that make the impossible seem possible. The video uses realistic art, proportional props and clever camera angles to create mind-blowing illusions that seem impossible, much like the performance and fuel efficiency of Honda’s latest vehicles.
It’s often said that laughter is the best medicine and, sure enough, video content that evokes hilarity is one of the best ways to get somebody to share your content. But it has to be really funny – content that merely brings a smile to your lips isn’t enough to trigger sharing activity, and staged hilarity can be harder to achieve.
Small companies often manage this better, simply because they’re willing to be more interesting and take greater risks with their content, like this recent ad from Poo-Pourri.
This ad, for a little-known toilet freshener, has raked in over 20 million views since its release in September, thanks to its combination of a posh, eloquent woman delivering a hilariously shocking script full of toilet humour.
The next video is hilarious in an entirely different way. Made to highlight the dangers of playing around trains, marketers cleverly realised that scare tactics wouldn’t work online, and vivid depictions of suffering and death aren’t necessarily great sharing triggers either, so they made this:
Dumb Ways to Die is undeniably fun. The increasingly mangled cartoon characters give off an air of glee as they dance and sing merrily to the catchy theme tune. The messy nature of their deaths can be shocking, but it stops short of being offensive. Instead, it’s silly enough to be shared without compromising its overall message.
A word of caution with ‘hilarity’; the aim of any type of marketing is to grow a business so there needs to be a relationship between the video and your business benefits. Will it Blend are the best example of a brand that combine humour and business USP’s perfectly.
Surprise is a common element of most viral content, though it generally has to be combined with other emotions to be truly successful. Surprising content is literally anything that surprises its audience – something that goes against their expectations or challenges their assumptions.
The following video advertising a television station in Belgium sets the bar as the second most-shared video of all time.
TNT’s A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square features a red button in the middle of a square, with a sign above saying, “Push here to add drama.” When pushed, a series of dramatic events unfold to the astonishment and amusement of the gathering crowd. Here the mixture of surprise with drama, fun and excitement has certainly hit the target.
Bud Lite employed surprise in an entirely different way in their Swear Jar ad.
This short ad hooks viewers instantly as it opens with a surprise. Set in a run-of-the-mill office, a swear jar has been set up for any staff uttering profanities at work, but when it’s suggested that they’ll use the proceeds to buy a case of Bud Lite the office descends into a building of somewhat colourful language. Here, surprise and hilarity are mixed to excellent effect.
Finally, let’s look at anger. Anger is a high-arousal emotion, but it’s also a negative one and as such has less potential to trigger sharing activity than content that elicits positive high-arousal emotions. When using anger to create viral content, you’re aiming not to evoke a hostile anger, but rather to challenge people’s beliefs, assumptions and opinions – essentially you’re taking the unpopular side of the debate and aiming to hit a nerve with your audience.
Anger was noted on the Berger and Milkman report as one of the most viral emotions studied, however this was in relation to news articles from the New York Times. Creating video content to evoke anger is a rather risky tactic. While the video may be shareable, it’s difficult to create an ad that elicits anger in a brand-relevant way. It also runs the risk of becoming irritating and causing negative connotations with your brand.
However – anger is a key emotion in videos created for many charities and non-profits because in many cases they are working to solve problems that confound common sense. A good example is the Kony 2012 video:
Over 100 million people have watched this video.
If your business solves problems that are really tough for people then anger may be your emotion of choice.
Key Emotional Triggers
The bottom line is this: people are more likely to share content when they’re emotionally engaged. But don’t play it too safe. If you want to evoke high levels of arousal you need to push the boundaries. Don’t make people smile, make them laugh out loud. Surprise them. Give them something unexpected, something astounding. And if you’re creating branded content, it’s probably safer to stick to positive emotions, like awe, hilarity or surprise.