Creativity In A Viral Age

A mad chase for eyeballs sounds like a gruesome task on some celebrity reality show. But is it a possible fate awaiting advertising? Maybe, according to this blog post by Nick Hammond on The Wall. Hammond asks some interesting – and familiar – questions about the relationship between analytics and creativity. It’s sparked by a recent launch of a product claiming to predict the viral potential of advertising, and if that sounds familiar, it might be because we at BrainJuicer also have a technique that predicts viral potential.

These kind of tools worry Hammond – are they going to kill creativity? He’s concerned that they’ll lead advertising online down the kind of paths journalism has gone – a chase for eyeballs and traffic spikes which many journalists complain has devalued creativity and skill.

This isn’t just a bit of artisanal preciousness – there’s a real worry about short-termism. If you want your ad to “go viral”, then “how?” is a great question, but “why?” is a better one. Continue reading

Pop And The Power Of Surprise

Away from the world of market research, this has been a remarkable week in pop music, at least if you’re into major stars trumpeting unexpected comebacks. Destinys’ Child and Justin Timberlake have announced their first music for years, and David Bowie’s first record for a decade has made enormous media waves. Pity poor Suede – also gone for ten years – whose return has been a teensy bit overshadowed.

What do these flash comebacks have in common? They’re all surprise announcements, and they all relate to music coming out very soon – or at least in Timberlake’s case, that’s the assumption. Bowie’s new single came out on the same day he announced his return, and Destiny’s Child’s new material is released in a couple of weeks.

He’s been busy, apparently.

This is sensible practise in an age of leaks and pirated music. But it also shows great understanding of the social nature of music and fandom. The stars handled their announcements themselves – direct via social media – and as such outsourced promotion of their music to their fanbases: enthusiasm spreading rapidly via Twitter and Facebook with the media in second place.

Even if you’re one of the world’s biggest stars, with fans in the millions online, you have to activate those fans – and surprise is your best weapon. As we’ve mentioned before on the blog (and in a webinar), surprise – more than any other emotion – is what makes things spread online. The reaction if Bowie had announced he was simply working on a new album would have been sizable – he’s been gone a while, after all – but working on albums is what rock stars do. But by telling us the album was finished, ready, and almost out, he harnessed surprise and created a social tidal wave.

Door No.21: Kony 2012

This write-up for our Advent Calendar was put together with help from Susanne Schoelzel – thanks Susanne!

The Experiment: KONY 2012 is the fastest-spreading video of all time, and a watershed moment in online content – the mobilisation of hundreds of millions of people in support of a relatively obscure cause. It felt like a snapshot of both the power of social media – to raise awareness and build audiences at massive speed and scale – and its limitations. The US manhunt for Joseph Kony had begun months before the campaign, and as of writing the warlord remains uncaptured.

After the Kony 2012 video became a hit, Susanne Schoelzel of our German team decided to run an experiment on it, to try and understand the dynamics of the Kony phenomenon.

Mission Accomplished – but what else happened?

She sampled both people who had and hadn’t already seen the 30-minute film, in Germany, Brazil, and the US – and tested it using our ComMotion system for emotional ad testing. She also asked them about their awareness of – and planned participation in – the follow-up Kony “Cover The Night” Day of Action, held worldwide in April this year.

We weren’t just looking for people’s emotions around the film, we were looking to see what effect the length of the movie had on their emotion – and on their sharing behaviour. How many people waited until the film had finished before passing it on – and what did the people watching it do next? Continue reading

Door No 6: Interactive Ads

It’s another entry in our Advent Calendar of BrainJuicer Experiments!

The Experiment: One of the advertising trends of the 2010s has been the personalised ad – not microtargeted ads like the ones served up on Facebook, but big, high concept and high production value ads which can be mashed up with individual data and customised.for each user.

A great example is the “Home Advantage” campaign BA ran around this year’s Olympics. Their main TV execution was spectacular enough – a jumbo jet driving around the streets of London, which performed better on our emotional ad testing system than any other Olympic ad by a UK brand.

The personal touch – but did it matter?

But the interactive execution went one better – put in your postcode and the ad would use Google Street View data to create a version where your own home could be seen from the ‘plane windows’.

Interactive ads should be a win-win – they keep the flair and emotional kick of the national campaign, while turning it into something personal, an individual bit of content to be shared. So we were very keen to use our ComMotion system – and the new Virality Index (outlined here) to test them.

What did we learn from the BA ad test? Are interactive ads more shareable? Do they make people happier? Continue reading

Door No. 3: The Virality Index

Today’s entry in the BrainJuicer Advent Calendar of Experiments!

The Experiment: Experts say it’s impossible to predict whether an ad will go viral – in fact some of them say we shouldn’t use the v-word at all! But that hasn’t stopped marketing companies trying to predict what will spread online – especially at a time when content marketing is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the mix. It felt like a challenge BrainJuicer couldn’t shy away from.

Most prescriptions for virality concentrate on specific recommendations – including humour, or celebrities, or sex. We decided to take a different angle, and focus on emotion. Our ComMotion tool for testing ads is based on our finding that the emotions a spot elicits are the best predictor of business effects – maybe somewhere in there was the key to virality, too.

By its very nature the spread of information online is chaotic and it’s a gargantuan – probably impossible – task to control for every factor. So in tandem with Contagious Magazine we used as our sample of ads those launched around this year’s Super Bowl. These would have a very large TV audience and a high degree of attention, but they’d have the same TV audience and attention. We used Unruly Media’s Viral Video Chart to get consistent data on number of shares online across the ad sample, too.

So what did we discover? Continue reading

Secrets Of The Viral Middlemen

A common criticism in popular culture is that as things move from fringe to mainstream popularity they get “diluted” or “watered down” to make them easier to sell. For instance, in the early 70s reggae record labels would record string parts to put on Jamaican hits to make UK audiences more interested. Does that hold true of viral culture, too?

I asked myself that question after reading this article by Farhad Manjoo about Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed – as you’re surely well aware – are the content factory behind hundreds of list articles, like “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity”, a combination of generosity, tolerance, sentiment and, inevitably, baby animals that’s racked up 1.6 million Facebook likes in a little over a week.

The question posed by Manjoo is simple: how does Buzzfeed do it? The answer, he says, is finding content curated by other people – mostly on Reddit – and passing it on. The online curation chain is full of aggregators and middlemen, so this shouldn’t really be surprising.

More interesting is how Buzzfeed owner Jonah Peretti talks about his methods. He points out the editorial decisions involved in curation, and discusses them in very familiar terms: “We’re making it into something that will delight and be understandable to the Facebook audience.”

So is this the same as putting strings on reggae hits? Internet memes and viral culture is a pop cultural form, so it makes sense that there’d be routes of transmission between ‘underground’ and ‘mainstream’. The only thing is, “dilution” isn’t exactly what Peretti is doing.

“It was almost more what we didn’t include that was the key to that post”, Manjoo quotes him as saying. “We didn’t include inside jokes and memes that most people don’t understand. We took it down to its emotional core.”

Kittens: MAINSTREAM. Memes: NOT.

If you’re one of the Redditors doing the unwitting legwork for Buzzfeed, you might see this as dilution (though according to Manjoo they don’t really seem to mind). But it’s just as much concentration – stripping away irrelevant material to hit a particular emotional button again and again.

And this may well be part of the secret to how spreadable these lists are. The work we’ve done at BrainJuicer on virality and emotion in advertising suggests that while the single key emotion associated with viral potential is surprise, the overall emotional intensity of a communication is crucial too. Something Buzzfeed’s technique of concentrated, clear emotional posts understands very well. If you want nuance, look elsewhere. If you want shares, on the other hand…