Viral Video Marketing Rule Number 4: Let Your Brand Be Human

Looking to make a viral video splash? Who better to teach success than the Coke and Mentos guys? Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe have just written The Viral Video Manifesto. We’re pleased to present this excerpt.

In conventional advertising, you can craft every moment to present your brand perfectly, down to the tiniest details. A chewing gum brand, for example, would typically have requirements so specific that the company would prescribe the exact method actors should use to put the company’s gum into their mouths. Every logo shot must be gorgeous. Every brand message must be consistently presented. The goal is to get everything as close to perfect as possible. When you’re paying for conventional advertising, you have complete control over the conversation.

In viral video, however, it’s not all about you.

You don’t just want us to watch your message. You want us to share it with our friends. So make your videos friendly and relatable, not stiff and corporate. Humanizing your brand this way helps create the emotional connection that will lead to sharing.

CokeMentosCarThe metaphor we find useful here is to think of a video as a gift you are giving to your audience. You want your gift to make us smile, so that when we think of you, we smile all over again.

This meshes perfectly with one of the strategies we talked about before, “No Product Shots”: be the source of something cool.

Videos like Stride Gum’s Where the Hell Is Matt? series, Sony Bravia’s Balls, and the multiple viral hits from T-Mobile and Cadbury, each give us something cool, uplifting, and fun, ending simply with one or two title cards telling us who it’s from. These videos are gifts, and the most important brand presence boils down to this: “We hope you enjoy this — T-Mobile.”

Like a gift from one person to another, these gifts should also come with no strings attached. Savvy brands put their videos out there and leave it up to us to visit their websites, learn more about them, and continue the conversation. They understand that if they create good feeling and trust, we’ll be happy to see them again.

So give us a gift with your video. Don’t weigh it down with heavy branding. Make it easy for us to find your website and your products, but don’t pressure us. Remember that if we like your gift, we’ll like you, and we’ll be likely to tell our friends about this cool video we just watched —  the video that the cool folks at your brand gave us.

If we feel like you’re selling us something, we’ll get our guard up, but if you give us something awesome with no strings attached, we will love you for it.

Making It About Your Audience

Good gifts show an understanding of the people they’re for, so you need to be sure to give us what we actually want. In product development and marketing, this is “knowing  your customer.” In viral video, making something contagious is also about knowing your customer. What will make us happy? Giving us that will get us sharing.

The perfect corporate packaging of the perfect corporate message is anything but contagious. Carefully scripted dialogue that nails all your specific campaign messages feels unnatural. Perfect product shots look fake.

Keep it human. Humans have rough edges. We aren’t perfectly on-message, we don’t go through life with scripts, and we don’t always turn your logo toward the camera.

The two of us have been lucky enough to work with a few brands that really get this, to the point that we’ve sent them rough test footage and they’ve been prepared to run with it with no extra polishing. That’s great. It means they’re not focused on whether the shirts we’re wearing are just right or whether that product shot could feature the logo a bit more prominently. They’re willing to let the video be human, and they’re focused on the two things that matter: (1) Does this represent my brand well? and (2) Is this as contagious as possible?

The Will It Blend? series nails this, making brilliant use of CEO Tom Dickson’s natural personality. He’s a bit goofy, and it would have been so easy for Blendtec to have gone instead with a polished, professional spokesperson and a detailed scripting of the Blendtec value propositions.

But Dickson can’t be beat. He comes off as a real guy, and we really connect with him and his ongoing mission to blenderize everything under the sun.

In “No Product Shots,” we advised you to keep your brand presence to the absolute essentials. We pointed out that you have a choice between a conventional video with 10 interrupting product shots that may get 20,000 views and a viral video with one integrated product shot that can get 2 million views.

Here, we’re suggesting that you keep your brand presence natural and personal. Let it be imperfect so that it can be more contagious. Which would you prefer: a perfect video that delivers 100 percent of your corporate message and gets 20,000 views, or a more human video that focuses on giving the viewer a great feeling about your brand and gets 2 million views?

Making viral video is about your audience, not just about you. Give us what we want to see, not what you want us to see. Let your brand be human, and give us a gift that will be part of a great relationship.

A Story of Redemption

About a week after we put our first Coke and Mentos video online, we had already had millions of views.

ViralVideoManifestoMentos was quick to react with enthusiasm for the growing viral phenomenon, but the Wall Street Journal reported a different reaction from Coca-Cola:

“It’s an entertaining phenomenon,” said Coke spokeswoman Susan McDermott. “We would hope people want to drink [Diet Coke] more than try experiments with it.” Coke could use some extra buzz right now. Sales volume of Diet Coke in the U.S. was essentially flat last year, as consumers switch from diet sodas to bottled water and other noncarbonated drinks. But Ms. McDermott says that the “craziness with Mentos . . . doesn’t fit with the brand personality” of Diet Coke.

Blogs and the press had a field day with that reaction. The headline on the Motley Fool summed it up: “Coke Is an Idiot.”

It was an unfortunate misstep, showing a very traditional reaction to something consumers were really enjoying. It made Coca- Cola look out of touch and too stiff to have a good time.

Coca-Cola’s digital marketing team, however, was quick to recognize the mistake and the missed opportunity. They went on to sponsor several successful viral videos, including our Diet Coke and Mentos domino effect and our two Coke Zero and Mentos–powered rocket cars. Since that first knee-jerk reaction to the viral phenomenon, Coca-Cola has shown a lot of wisdom in social media and viral video, finding ways to give their gigantic brand a relatable, human presence.

The company really showed that it had learned from its experience with the geyser phenomenon when a fan-created Coke page appeared on Facebook and Coke fans began “liking” it by the millions. Rather than squashing it as other brands might have done (or as even Coca-Cola might have done in the past), Coca-Cola stayed human. They encouraged the fan page and made it a huge win for everyone.

When you can take just one step away from corporate rigidity and embrace what your customers love like Coca-Cola and Mentos have, they’ll love you for it.

Whether your brand makes cool stuff happen the way that Coca- Cola and Mentos do or you give your brand a real human face the way Blendtec does, viral video is a great opportunity to get past the traditional advertising mindset and let your brand be human.

So How Do We Keep from Looking Too Corporate?

When you’ve finally created a video that delivers an unforgettable emotional moment,  don’t kill that moment with clumsy corporate messaging.

Be like a friend, not A Friend®, Inc.

We have had many friendly debates with our clients on how best to integrate their brands into videos, and we see part of our job as keeping them from coming across as too corporate. It often comes down to small, simple things, but they really make a difference.

With this in mind, what we’ve done when working with Coca-Cola and Mentos is to close our videos with a plain title card saying simply:

Thanks to

The Coca-Cola Company

and Mentos

for helping make this possible.

This positions them as our friends. Our human, approachable friends.

For online video (and probably everywhere else), that’s a much stronger position than looking like an impersonal, corporate behemoth.

DisneyProposalOne of the many tip-offs that the Disneyland Musical Marriage Proposal was a faked corporate production and not a real moment captured on video was its YouTube description, which read:

A magical moment happens on Main Street, U.S.A., when a young man proposes to his girlfriend on a Summer evening in Disneyland® Resort.

Does this sound like a description any normal person would write? How could we fix it?

First, we’d get rid of the team of lawyers and marketing executives who insisted on using the phrase “Disneyland® Resort” instead of what every normal person calls it: Disneyland. (And for Pete’s sake, who uses a registered trademark “®” symbol in a YouTube video description?!)

Eliminating that would give us this:

A magical moment happens on Main Street, U.S.A., when a young man proposes to his girlfriend on a Summer evening at Disneyland.

Better. Of course, a normal person would probably just say “Disneyland” instead of “Main Street U.S.A . . . at Disneyland.” We sure would.

Which would leave us with this:

A magical moment happens at Disneyland when a young man proposes to his girlfriend on a Summer evening.

The marketer speak is still lurking in “magical moment” and “on a summer evening,” and “young man” and “girlfriend” are impersonal.

How would you write this description if you were talking to your friends?

How about this:

John’s awesome proposal to Erica at Disneyland.

The video itself still feels like a corporate production, but now the description is much more human.

If it looks like it’s from your marketing department, people are likely to skip right over it, and it won’t go viral. You may have worked into it all your marketing messages and beautiful logos, but if the result feels corporate and calculated, no one will share it.

Keep it human.

From The Viral Video Manifesto by Stephen Voltz Fritz Grobe, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. Copyright 2013.

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