A 6 Step Checklist For Creating Viral Video Ads

by Kent Lloyd May 22, 2017

Many companies think they can’t afford to hire professionals to make their video ads for them. It’s too much of a hassle and there’s no guarantee of a return on investment. They’ll hire an intern to do it for them and then they are sadly disappointed when their ads don’t go viral.

Unfortunately, creating a viral video ad isn’t a simple matter of having a creative idea and spending an afternoon filming.

There is no guaranteed formula for creating a viral video ad. The internet does what the internet wants. That being said, there are some key components to making a memorable video ad that drives real results for your business. Those components have remained constant regardless of the day and age of advertising.

You can have a commercial that you think is absolutely killer, but if you don’t hit an audience’s sweet spot, then you have a commercial that just kills your ad spend instead. The good news is, there are ways to predict whether or not a video ad will produce the kind of results you’re looking for.

Essentially, if you can answer a truthful “yes” to all 6 of the following questions, you probably have a great video ad with a lot of viral potential:

  1. Does the ad tell a story?
  2. Are you entertained while watching the ad?
  3. Does the ad make you feel anything?
  4. Can you identify what the ad wants you to do?
  5. Can you tell what demographic the ad it for?
  6. Is there a central truth in the ad that you can identify with?

Take notes, some truth bombs are about to be dropped! I’ll even include a seventh bonus question at the end for those who are really serious about video ads.

1) Does the Ad Tell A Story?

Good ads tell a story. This is important, because the story is what drives viewers to watch more. They want to see how the whole adventure unfolds. Take this video for instance.

While watching this ad for Dirt Devil, you genuinely feel tense. There is a demon in this house and it’s not going to go away. This horror story wouldn’t have done nearly as well if they called in a plumber to come get their daughter off the ceiling. There would be no tension to break.

If you want to make a viral video, then design an ad with interesting characters and a setting that people can get invested in. Do something with the world that makes it memorable. Combine worlds that shouldn’t be combined, do the unexpected, or, heck, just tell us a love story.

Even if you are doing an infomercial type commercial where you have a spokesperson that talks to the camera, you can still tell a story. Find a good metaphor for your company’s product and then design a commercial that runs with that metaphor or go the exact opposite of that metaphor.

Here’s a infomercial that takes the metaphor of being naked in public and makes it very literal.

Or take the Squatty Potty commercial. Poop is gross and talking about poop is a faux pax. Squatty Potty flipped this on its head, however, by using unicorn poop to illustrate the benefits of using the Squatty Potty.

In both of these situations the video ad tells a story. It creates characters that you want to know more about and then unfolds them bit by bit in a hilarious sit-com sort of way.

2) Are You Entertained While Watching the Ad?

Along the same lines, entertainment factor is a huge issue as it comes to viral commercials. If your ad isn’t entertaining, why would anyone want to watch it—let alone buy what you’re selling?

If you can’t create an entertaining ad, you certainly can’t create a viral ad. However, even the most entertaining ad concept will fall on its face if you don’t execute it properly.

The Actors

A lot goes into creating an entertaining ad, but the first element is this: are the actors in the ad entertaining by themselves? You can have the ugliest person in the world on screen, but as long as they are engaging with the audience in some way, you are golden.

Most people who are trying to make ads on their own want to just use someone they know to act in their ad—whether or not they are actually the right fit for the piece. I get it, using an existing employee is cheap, but here’s the thing: if your actor sucks, your ad will suck.

[clickToTweet tweet=”If your actor sucks, your video ad will suck.” quote=”If your actor sucks, your video ad will suck.”]

To ensure that my actor isn’t going to be the worst part of my commercial, I make sure to audition a lot of different people for the role. Now, some people like work with certain actors over and over again, since it saves time (and sometimes money) in the pre-production process, but if you want a viral video, you need the right actor(s).

Auditioning actors can only benefit you. I am always pleasantly surprised when the best person for a role is someone that I’ve never met before that heard about the casting call. It’s something like Field of Dreams: if you build it (the role) they will come (the actor).

If you can find actors to do your commercial for free, great. But realize this, your company will be making money based of someone else performance. They deserve to be paid for that reason alone. You wouldn’t ask a contractor to build you house for free. Paying is also a good way to attract the right actor.

If you are trying to attract talent that will serve you well, paying them a good wage will bring all the boys to the yard.

As you try to decide how much to offer your actor(s), start by looking at what is considered a good wage in your state. To do that, simply talk to an actor in your area.

If you have no idea how to get the word out about your audition notice, again, ask some of your actor friends. They’ll know about all the right acting and filmmaking forums that there are (most of these are on Facebook).

The Cut

The second element of making an ad entertaining is the cutting of the ad. Does the video drag and make you want to hit the skip button on YouTube? If so, you can bet your ad cut is all wrong (provided the actors themselves aren’t the problem…).

In order to keep the video editing strong, keep your ad short and to the point. Cut out the silences between the actors lines. Try to develop a rhythm in the editing that you can almost feel. In addition, remember, a little music can go a long way towards improving the flow of your ad.

The best way to tell if your ad is entertaining or not is to watch someone else’s face while their watching it for the first time. Ask a coworker or a family member to watch your product and just study their face. Trust me, it will quickly become clear whether they are entertained or not.

3) Does the Ad Make You Feel Anything?

By this point in your analysis I hope that you have felt at least one emotion because of your ad. If it’s entertaining, and it has a story it should be making you feel something.

If you can evoke emotion in your audience, you will capture their attention. Take this ad for instance:

This sad lamp ad from IKEA does very well at telling the story of a lamp that is outdated and is being replaced. You feel bad for the lamp sitting out in the rain, abandoned like a lost puppy looking for a new owner.

What you don’t realize that this entire IKEA ad is designed to help change your feelings of sentiment towards your own furniture. It gets you to experience your own feelings of attachment and then overrides those feelings with humorous logic. Now, you can update your own furniture without feeling bad about it.

Humor is an easy thing to use to to make your ads go viral, but you can also use sadness, fear, and discomfort to make your ads memorable and shareable. You can use whatever emotion you want, but make sure the emotion is right for your brand.

Generally speaking, a good guideline to go with when you are writing an ad is to think about what life would be like with or without your product and then explore that world. The emotions should become clear as you explore. If you aren’t sure that you’ll be able to make an ad with a concrete emotion, hire a professional.

4) Can You Identify What the Ad Wants You To Do?

There are some good ads out there that are moody and sexy as all get out and then…you find yourself asking, “what am I supposed to do now?” This is the worst feedback that you could ever hear from someone watching your ad.

You could spend $100,000 creating a viral ad that gets millions of views, but if your audience doesn’t know what to do at the end of your ad, you just paid for an expensive way to confuse all those viewers. Be clear and concise, and make sure your call to action is at the end of the ad, so that the viewer will remember what to do.

You want your audience to know specifically what they should do and how they can do it right after watching your ad.

It’s as simple as saying “get yours now at such-and-such website.” At the very least, you should let the audience know what the brand is that is sharing the commercial. That way, even if your audience isn’t currently in the market for your product or offer, when they are they will remember your business first.

This commercial does great at delivering a story, provoking an emotion, and entertaining the audience. It doesn’t really need to say “buy a Volkswagon” because just the brand reminder is enough by itself. Their call to action is long term. It needs to last 5-10 years till the next time the viewer is buying a car.

5) Can You Tell What Demographic the Ad is For?

At the end of a video, if you can’t tell who the ad is targeted towards, chances are it’s probably a lot less shareable, and therefore has a lot less viral potential. It doesn’t matter if the demographic is just something simple like a gender. Your target market matters a ton.

The problem is when advertisers say, “everyone is in my target market.” That may be true, but your ad needs to be selective. Targeting everyone is lazy and a waste of money.

It’s far better to make five ads that are specific to different demographics—even if they are all advertising the same product. You’ll get way more conversions that way. So keep things simple, like this ad.

Everyone can eat Cheerios, so why does this ad target dads if everyone can eat them? Because, in most households, dads are the ones bringing home the bacon (literally). Even if someone else does the shopping, the dad has his input in the shopping list.

Also, a good reason to target dads is that a dad’s ears will perk up when they hear the words “father” being repeated on a screen. They may not perk up as much when they see an ad for kids toys.

Specific targeting is like waving a giant flag in front of your market’s face and screaming “watch this!” The more specific your messaging and target market, the higher your conversion rates will be, which is what we’re all after anyway.

6) Is There a Central Truth?

In an effort to be funny, many advertisers miss the central truth in a situation that could help them sell way more product. This is generally the reason why Skittles commercials are so weird. They completely throw out any or all universal truths.

This commercial is just wrong. Most people I know are not interested in eating Skittles when they are picked off the face of a pubescent boy. If your imagery goes contrary to the ideals of your target market, they will not have an increased desire to buy your product.

A compelling universal truth can be the difference between a viral video and just an okay performing one.

For instance, if you have an ad that insinuates that you are buying your child an iPad to shut them up, that won’t sell as many iPads than one that insinuates that you should buy an iPad for your child because they deserve the best. The first invokes resentment towards children, and the second provokes love.

Nailing your universal truth is important because the internet is brutal. The internet will let you know immediately if the truth that you are trying to use to say that you understand your target market’s feelings is off. And they won’t be nice about it. Take the time to make sure that you understand your target market before you try to identify their sweet spot.

7) Bonus: Does the Ad Look Professional?

This may seem dumb and obvious, but the quality of your ad reflects on you as a brand. If your video looks like it was filmed by a college film student in an afternoon, that tells the world one of two things:

  • Your brand is just starting and is a risky investment, or
  • Your brand is cheap and not very professional themselves.

You don’t want your target market to be jumping to conclusion about your brand. Even start up companies need to look stable and professional in order to attract their high roller customers. You will attract the kind of business that you appear to be worth. So, take the time to hire a professional.

Creating Viral Video Ads

Let me say this once again: the internet does what the internet wants. There is no guarantee that anything that you make will ever go viral, but if your ad meets the above criteria, your ad will perform well regards of whether or not it goes viral.

By the way, if you are looking for a professional company to help you create a viral video ad, let me know here or in the comments. We have an affordable full service video department that will help guide you through all of these steps outlined above and also handle all the specifics of PPC targeting and reporting after it’s finished.

Ever made a viral video ad? What was your creative process like? What are some of your favorite viral ads?

  • Video Advertising

Kent Lloyd

Kent Lloyd

Kent is a true action hero. He's our resident stunt coordinator, director, and editor for video, but he also enjoys being active through martial arts, hiking, canyoneering, skydiving, and contemporary dance. He claims plaid is his favorite color.

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