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When creating an online video advertisement, every digital marketer’s goal is to create a viral video ad that is watched and shared by millions but for many, this remains just a dream!  Online, viewers are more in control of the ads they view and the challenge for firms is to create video adverts that viewers choose to watch in full and share with others.  If the advertisement does not grab their attention and keep them watching, then it is highly unlikely they will share it.


Teixeira, Wedel and Pieters (2012) conducted research into two areas of video advertisements, the results of which are important for effective video design.


The first study ‘How to insert the brand in TV commercials to minimise ad avoidance’ was an eye tracking study, with nearly 2000 participants watching at least 4 video advertisements each.  It was found that the decision to zap or not to zap, i.e. viewers were free to skip (zap) past an advertisement at any stage whilst watching it, depends on how the brand is presented within the commercial.  They found the more prominent or intrusive the logo, the more likely viewers are to stop watching.   During their research they discovered the ability of commercials to concentrate consumers’ visual attention reduced commercial avoidance significantly.   Therefore a commercial’s power to concentrate, hold and direct visual attention is crucial to advertising effectiveness.

The second study, ‘Emotion-Induced Engagement in Internet Video Advertisements’ investigated how advertisers can leverage emotion and attention to engage consumers in watching internet video advertisements.  From a random selection of 106 videos, 66% intended to evoke either of two emotions, joy and/or surprise.   Their research focused on measuring the effects of these two emotions through automated facial expression detection, for a sample of advertisements, they assessed concentration of attention through eye tracking and viewer retention by recording zapping behaviour.  This research aims to support the creative process for advertisers by understanding the influence that typical sequences of experiencing joy and surprise, over the course of an advertisement, have on concentrating attention and retaining viewers.


Their body of research identified four important strategies in designing your viral ad:


Brand Pulsing – When designing your viral ad, utilise ‘brand pulsing’ by weaving your brand image unobtrusively through the advert.  It is more effective to display quick and repeated images of your brand, a technique used in Coca Colas ‘Happiness Factory’ Ad, which can increase viewership by as much as 20%!

Hook Them Early – The first few seconds of advertisements are critical in captivating the viewer’s attention.  Today’s online viewers need to be hooked in the opening seconds and to maximise viewership it’s important to generate at least one of these emotions, joy or surprise, early in the advert.  The design of television commercials of the past by which an advert escalates to a surprise ending or dramatic climax, is the least effective, with viewers losing interest early in the advert and zapping past it.

The Emotions – Interestingly, surprise, more effectively, grabs the viewers’ attention and joy, more effectively, increases viewer retention revealing the dual role in ad effectiveness that these two related but distinct emotions play.  Depending on your advertising objectives, this is important when designing your advertisement to grab and retain viewers’ attention at specific moments during the advertisement, i.e. introducing a new product to the market.


Emotional Rollercoaster – The research found that viewers are most likely to continue watching a video ad if they experience emotional ups and downs.   When designing your advertisement, take your audience on an Emotional Rollercoaster, quickly introduce feelings of joy or surprise, briefly terminate those feelings and then quickly restore them, by delivering a fresh dose of these elements every 6 seconds or so, i.e. changing scenes thereby holding the interest of the viewers.   Budweiser Swear Jar Ad is a skilful example of this technique consisting of an introduction and 7 further scenes in a 60 second ad.  Furthermore, adverts that start with joy or surprise and deliver that emotion at a fairly constant level are effective at capturing attention initially but are not as effective in sustaining viewers’ attention for the entire ad, this technique is evident in the Apple ‘Get a Mac’ Advert.


If creating a viral ad is part of your digital marketing plan, follow these strategies and create a video that will maximise your brand exposure whilst entertaining and engaging your audience and hopefully, you will see your ad go viral!


Teixeira, T. S., Wedel, M., & Pieters, R.(2012) ‘Emotion-induced engagement in internet video ads.’ JMR, Journal of Marketing Research 49, no. 2, 144 – 159, available: Business Source Complete database [accessed 02 Jan 2014]


Teixeira, T. S., Wedel, M., & Pieters, R.(2012) ‘To zap or not to zap: How to insert the brand in TV commercials to minimize avoidance.’ GfK Marketing Intelligence Review 4, no. 1, 14–23, available: Here [accessed 02 Jan 2014]


Cathal Quinn