Study outlines four essential elements to YouTube viral success

Researchers at the University of Melbourne identified a formula to understand why some branded YouTube videos go viral, while others fail.


In a study of more than 130 YouTube movies created by some of the biggest brands, researchers identified patterns that form the basis of a branded viral movie predictor algorithm.


The researchers claim this algorithm can identify why some movies are watched and passed on more than others.


Researchers say the study helps understand the growing influence of YouTube movies, which aim to sell a brand with sight and sound rather than descriptions or static pictures.


Dr Brent Coker, from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics, says for many brands, a 30-second YouTube movie that goes viral is the “holy grail” of marketing.


However, he warns it can be tricky to come up with a winning formula.


“Some well-known ingredients known to increase the chances of viral success such as babies, pranks and stunts, seem to have great success on some occasions, but turn into catastrophic failures on others,” Coker says.


“As soon as many people sense the movie is actually an advertisement, the virility of the movie typically gets cut short.”


“This algorithm highlights the four essential elements that are necessary to ensure the success and longevity of a viral movie.”


According to the research, the most viewed movies tend to have four key elements. One factor is congruency – the degree to which people reflect on their own values when processing the movie.


Another factor is emotive strength – whether the movie evokes an emotion strong enough to sink into the long-term memory of the viewer.


Researchers say the extent to which viewers are motivated to accept the movie and then pass it onto others is also important. This is termed the “network-involvement ratio”.


For example, universities often create viral YouTube movies because of shared interests and values among students.


The final ingredient is “paired meme element synergy”.


This is when certain behaviours in the movie are paired correctly to illicit a high level of interest from the viewer. For example, impromptu entertainment paired with anticipation.


According to Coker, the most effective branded YouTube movies are those that are subtle in how they promote a particular brand.


“These are little productions put together where it’s not obvious that it’s sponsored by a corporation. It’s a new trend in marketing right now,” Coker says.


“People are getting more jaded by traditional advertising, so they’re turning to pull marketing… One way to do that is to create these viral movies.”


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