Viewers have a near-infinite supply of online video entertainment — from clips of cute kittens to political commentators — and there are no signs of that drying up anytime soon. In fact, over 500 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, according to Statista. That number doesn’t even include other platforms like Netflix, Facebook, and TikTok.
With so much competition for viewers’ attention, companies are looking for better ways to make videos that people want to watch and share. But how?
The answer, according to science, is to create videos that trigger an emotional response. Research on viral advertising, conducted by Karen Nelson-Field at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, found this to be true and is summarized in this blog post by Contently:
“Videos which elicit strong emotions from viewers — whether positive or negative — are twice as likely to be shared as those that provide a weak emotional response.”
What’s more, the study says videos with a strong positive emotional response are 30% more likely to be shared than videos with a negative emotional response. That means as a business, you want to create content that makes people feel intense but positive emotions.
That’s not an easy task. Video ads selling a specific product rarely create these kinds of responses — few people get teary-eyed about breakfast cereal or an extra-smooth shave. But branded videos can elicit powerful feelings, whether by telling a story with compelling characters or tapping into nostalgia.
To gain inspiration for your own content, consider these standout examples of brand videos that stirred strong positive emotions and made a lasting impression on viewers.
Raise your hand if you can remember pre-pandemic life — or if you can imagine how it’ll feel to return to the way things were before. And how do we actually get there? These questions are at the forefront of many people’s minds lately. Google tuned right into the current moment and used one of their tried-and-true strategies with their latest viral ad, Get back to what you love.
Originally published on YouTube in March and then aired during the NCAA Final Four games, this one-minute ad had millions of people watching and then taking to social media to share their reactions and the ad itself.
As they have before, Google used its own platforms throughout the ad. This showed us how things might change for us — and soon. From shifting our searches to reflect a pivot back toward in-person activities and wearing real clothes to showing actual locations on Google Maps being reopened, we got a glimpse of where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
Health organizations like the CDC have been advising the public to get vaccinated against COVID, as this is the safest and most effective way to get us to herd immunity and back into the world. However, many people still have trepidations about receiving the vaccine. To address that, the video ends with a call urging people to search for vaccines near them or learn more about the vaccine.
Throughout the ad, the music used makes us feel hopeful about what’s to come and ultimately galvanizes viewers to take action to do their part as we try to move forward this year.
When building-supply company 84 Lumber originally submitted this ad for the 2017 Super Bowl, Fox rejected it for being too political. In response, the lumber company cut the ad and played a 90-second version during the game, with instructions to visit their website to see the full video. The commercial piqued so much curiosity that the company website temporarily crashed.
With very few words, the commercial tells the story of a mother-daughter pair traveling on a grueling journey on foot across Mexico to reach the United States. Once they finally arrive at their destination, a huge wall blocks their way. It’s then they spot a wooden gateway, presumably made by 84 Lumber. They push the doors open and walk through. The ad ends with, “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”
The spot aired in 2017, the same year then-president Donald Trump signed a slew of anti-immigration executive orders, including the Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements, which stated plans for a “physical wall” along the US-Mexican border. For Americans tuning into the Super Bowl, the significance of the wall in the video was immediately understood.
At almost six minutes long, the video took time to highlight the hardships of the mother and daughter’s journey through rural villages, along train tracks, and in the scorching desert. It told a clear story with high stakes.
By painting such a vivid picture of the pair’s travels, the video invites us to put ourselves in their shoes. And the choice of characters is also judicious — we all understand, almost instinctively, a mother’s desire to protect her daughter.
Sending a political statement can be a very effective tool to call up strong emotions, but it can also be risky. Brands need to make sure that the messaging is authentic, aligning with their values and behavior, and they need to be ready to face some amount of backlash.
The 2016 Brotherly Love advertisement was part of Coca-Cola’s Taste the Feeling campaign. In it, a teenage boy teases his younger sibling. He puts the younger boy’s headphones on a shelf out of reach, steps on his foot under the dinner table, and even leaves him umbrella-less in the rain.
But when bullies show up to steal the younger brother’s Coke, the big brother steps in. He scares them away and returns the Coke to his brother.
The older brother’s behavior is familiar to most people who’ve grown up with siblings. They may fight ruthlessly amongst themselves, but when the chips are down, their loyalty knows no bounds. By tapping into that unique relationship, the video becomes relatable for many viewers.
There is also a sense of nostalgia created by the relatable décor and outfits. The home interior is carefully neutral, and both brothers are wearing Converse sneakers, which have been popular since at least the 1970s. Viewers of almost every generation can identify with what they’re seeing.
Beyond that, the ad packs an emotional punch in the way it builds tension up to a key moment. When the older boy chases away the bullies and holds his sibling’s Coke bottle, for a second the audience — and the little brother — truly don’t know if he’s going to return it. The uncertainty keeps us engaged, and we feel an acute sense of relief when he does return the bottle.
The Chinese e-commerce giant’s 2018 Winter Olympics advertising campaign was dedicated To the Greatness of Small.
In this two-minute video, a young Kenyan boy becomes fascinated with ice hockey after seeing it on TV. However, his Olympic dreams are quickly dismissed because “we don’t play ice hockey in Africa.” Yet the boy and his friends don’t give up, donning in-line roller skates and practicing for years. By the end of the spot, they arrive ready to play at the Winter Olympics.
The ad is a romanticized version of the true story of the Kenya Ice Lions, the country’s first ice hockey team. The team got media attention in 2018 after being invited to Toronto by Tim Hortons to play — before that, they didn’t have anyone to compete against.
Alibaba’s ad helped the Ice Lions gain further media attention. The company even flew members of the team to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.
As viewers, we love stories of ordinary people overcoming incredible odds; they help us believe in the power of human potential. This video does a great job of tapping into our feelings of exhilaration at seeing people defy the rules of what can and can’t be done. The fact that the video is inspired by actual events is just icing on the cake.
To provoke this kind of emotional response in viewers, show characters’ journeys as they work to overcome obstacles. Videos that don’t include difficulties or setbacks run the risk of being boring or feeling flat. If there’s no risk of failure, there’s no reason for viewers to feel invested in a character’s eventual success.
Alright, we’ll admit that we may be a wee bit biased, but we think our four-part Webby Award-winning documentary series One, Ten, One Hundred is a great example of how to tap into positive feelings, harness your viewers’ natural curiosity, and surprise your audience.
The series follows the Sandwich team, who we challenged to produce three different ads for us with three very different budgets: $1,000, $10,000, and $100,000.
Part of the way we tap into viewers’ curiosity here is by building suspense with episodic content. Each episode tells a mini-story but always leaves the viewer hungry for more. Capitalizing on the wait for what happens next is a tried-and-true method for amping up anticipation, from the heyday of network cable television to today’s binge-worthy Netflix shows.
We also kept the series light and fun with jokes, a simple premise, and likable characters (the Sandwich team). Having strong personalities that viewers like and identify with helps people stay invested.
The premise also has curiosity built into it: Can these people actually pull off making a $1,000 commercial? What will a $100,000 commercial look like? By using both the format and the premise to create anticipation, we encouraged our audience to keep clicking “next episode.”
If you can take your viewers on a positive emotional journey, you’ve got their attention. But eliciting a strong emotional response can backfire if the video’s message doesn’t align with your brand’s values. Getting more views shouldn’t come at the cost of appearing hypocritical or inauthentic.
To evoke genuine emotional responses and build brand affinity, create videos that align with your company culture and values as a whole. That way, you get the best of both worlds — appealing to people with great content and reinforcing who you are as a brand and company.