Should you make your brand CONTAGIOUS? Brand Manage Camp 2

Why is it that some branded content goes "viral", whilst other content doesn't? Johna Berger shared ideas about this at Brand Manage Camp 2013, based on his research at Wharton on the subject, published in his book Contagious.

His focus was on what creates word of mouth. He started by reminding people of 3 key points:

– Focus on the content, not the technology: Social media like Facebook and Twitter are simply technologies, not strategies. The content is king.

– Ideas not influencers: don't focus your effort on trying to find influencers or opinion leaders. Rather, create great ideas that will get spread by lots of normal people

– Word of mouth, more than "word of mouse": he reminded us that 90%+ of word of mouth is still people to people, not online, a point I posted on here.

Johan then went on to talk about the things that can help make an idea "contagious", with my highlights below.

1. Stories

I loved this point, about creating brand stories that communicate your brand idea in an emotionally compelling way. The content is hidden inside the story, a bit like the Greek soldiers that hid inside the Trojan Horse. I've posted many times on the power of brand stories, with the first post back in 2008, here.

The key here is to make the virality valuable, by ensuring the brand is the hero of the story. Otherwise, the risk is creating what I call "sponsored entertainment", as I posted on here: amusing content with the brand logo slapped at the end.

Johan used as an example the Panda brand of cheese from Egypt, that I'd not heard of before. The adverts show people turning down the chance to eat some Panda cheese, provoking the appearance of a pissed off panda. The endline is "Never say no to Panda". Its a good example of creating and amplifying a distinctive brand property. 

You can watch the top 5 Panda ads below, or click here.

2. Emotion

I suggested that three key things made videos go viral in this post: i) humour, ii) drama, iii) sex. Based on Johna's research, I wasn't far off, as he suggests the positive emotions driving virality are amazement and amusement (he forgets sex, which accounts for 13% of all online searches). A lot of the examples he used in this section are entertainment based, such as Susan Boyle's amazing performance on Britain's Got Talent (133 million YouTube views, and worth a look if you've not seen it). 

He also suggests two negative emotions that can work: anger and anxiety. For example, a hacked off guitar player wrote a song called "United Breaks Guitars" that got 13 million views, to vent his anger about the airline chucking his guitar about. The singer in question seems to have made a career out of this service screw-up, recording follow up videos, writing a book and doing public speaking!

3. Social currency

Another factor that helps make ideas contagious is having "social currency" that makes us look cool and in the know. The example used here is Blendtec's "Will it blend?" series of YouTube videos. These show the CEO demonstrating the remarkable capabilities of his product by blending items such as iPhones and golf balls. Johan claims that these videos and their 300 million views boosted sales by 700% in two years (I guess there were other factors such as distribution as well).

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In conclusion, I agree 100% with the principle of creating emotionally compelling stories that feature the brand as hero. However, don't pin your hopes on your ideas going viral. See being contagious as a bonus, not the main objective. The health warning for Contagious is in the book if you look for it. What % of YouTube videos do you think get more than 1 million views, which is in itself not that many (this is c. 2% of the UK adult population)?




Nope. Its 0.33%

In other words, for every YouTube video that gets 1 million views, another 299 get less than this.

And don't forget, these views are all "un-targetable". So, your nice new beer advert for the UK market could be viewed by lots of 10 year old school kids in Nigeria, or wherever.