Stunts, Surprises and Sappy Endings: 6 Paths To Online Video Emotion

One of the things you might have noticed looking at the FeelMore50 list of the world’s most emotional ads, is that a bunch of them are long – around the three minute mark, and sometimes more. The thirty or sixty second TV spot can still pack a big emotional wallop – after all, this year’s winner was thirty seconds – but advertising made for and watched on the internet is getting increasingly emotional.

Online video itself is hardly a new trend! But looking at the online and viral ads in the 2014 Feelmore50, what’s obvious is the sense of a rejuvenated industry, figuring out what works and getting better almost by the month. People have known now to make great TV ads for a long time – even if their actually doing so has been held back by caution and by bad models of how advertising works. But the longform online video, designed for sharing, is newer, and agencies are still learning how to use it well and make it emotional.

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This means two things. It means there’s a palpable buzz around the best examples as bold creatives try new tricks. It also means that an approach that works is very quickly copied, and then mutates as its DNA is spliced with other successful examples. For instance, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” and P&G’s “Thank You Mom” were both massively shared, and we’ve seen a lot of campaigns building on and trying to improve on their ideas. But we’ve also seen campaigns – like Cardstore’s “World’s Toughest Job” – which take the Dove empowerment activation and mix it with a shot of P&G style gratitude.

My guess is that in even three years’ time online videos will look very different. Not just because there will be more points of interaction and personalisation, but because agencies will have learned to use their two-to-three minute canvas even more efficiently and emotionally.

But for now here are the six dominant ways of making an emotional longform ad right now: the Stunt, the Surprise, the Sappy Ending, the Social Experiment, the Spectacular – and of course the Story.

THE STUNT: The advertiser creates a large-scale event and then records public reaction to it. This is one of the oldest types of longform ad – versions like T-Mobile’s flashmob were making a splash five years ago – but it still has legs. The trick is to take the canvas of everyday life and create something unexpected and charming from it. An example from this year’s FeelMore50 is German supermarket Edeka’s Christmas cash register symphony.

THE SURPRISE: The advertiser sets up and executes a prank on unsuspecting members of the public (who may or may not be for real). Again, this one has a long pedigree – very long, in fact, it goes back to the earliest days of TV and shows like Candid Camera. This type of longform uses surprise – even if the video audience is in on the trick, seeing someone else’s surprise can be a very effective emotional kicker. The trend seems to be away from pure pranks and towards more emotional surprises – like Pampers’ “Mom’s First Birthday” from Japan.

THE SAPPY ENDING: This one works like the surprise, except… there’s no surprise. The advert sets up an emotional situation and simply follows it through to its happy ending. An example in the FeelMore50 is Skype’s “Born Friends Family Portraits”. There’s no mystery here about what’s going to happen – there are two friends who have never met, and Skype is going to reunite them. So the video has the space to build anticipation by letting you get to know the friends and realise why the meeting is so important. The result: a big emotional payoff that works by resolving unhappiness.

THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT: This type of longform video documents an experiment or a challenge that’s set up to prove an emotional point. Just as with the surprise video, the audience can be in on the experiment from the beginning or not. Dove pioneered this type of ad, and they keep getting better at doing it – as in their “Selfie” video, from the FeelMore50 Global list. The experiment can simply be a thought experiment, too – as in Always’ “#likeagirl” campaign – but it may work better when a real situation is involved.

THE SPECTACULAR: Then there’s the blockbuster longform ad, whose main selling point is the star power or the special effects: the trend to have “name” directors making your films fits in here too. This is also the rarest of the styles – since if brands go big-budget they tend to be aiming for a broadcast audience and taking the shortform route. In fact, it may only be a presence on the 2014 FeelMore50 because of the World Cup, which brought us ads like Nike’s “Winner Stays On”.

THE STORY: Finally, storytelling is the dominant approach to making emotional ads at 60 or 90 seconds, and agencies have become used to telling those stories with beautiful economy, making every shot count. Of course those skills can be used at longer durations too. This almost shouldn’t count as a separate category – there are storytelling elements and structures in all the longform styles we’ve discussed so far. But what the Stunt, Surprise, Sappy Ending and Social Experiment modes have in common is that they take – or fake – a documentary approach. They present themselves as non-fiction. But there are also longform ads that are pure storytelling, and show how agencies are getting to grips with a wider canvas for story. In fact, the most successful over-two-minute videos in the FeelMore50 – Turkish Airlines’ “Dreams” and Thai Life’s “Unsung Hero” – are driven by story power.

What to expect this year? More hybrids, more crossovers between the styles, more synergy between TV and online campaigns, and more confident storytelling. At the moment the dominant tones in longform video making are towards making viewers feel empowered and grateful. But this won’t last forever – we can probably expect a backlash in the direction of comedy and schadenfreude as some of the currently successful ideas start to feel played-out. Longform emotional advertising is some of the most innovative and rapidly evolving. However it develops in 2015, the prizes will go to the brands that make people feel more, in whatever way they can.

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