Why So Few TV Ads Are Viral Hits


The Holy Grail for many marketers is having their big-budget TV spot become a viral hit online, providing millions of dollars worth of free exposure from consumer pass-along.

The bad news is the chance of this happening is pretty slim, and even if it does, there’s a good chance the spot won’t do much to persuade viewers.

Those are the conclusions of a Millward Brown study of TV commercials posted online. The researcher found that less than 15 percent of 102 ads studied were viral hits. (Millward Brown defines a viral hit as a spot that generates more than 1,000 views per week in the United Kingdom market or 5,000 in the U.S.) In other words, for every Old Spice “The man your man could smell like” spot that has generated more than 4.5 million YouTube views, there are five duds.

What’s worse, Millward Brown found that even those spots that do achieve viral success don’t necessarily mean consumers get the intended commercial message. It has developed a scorecard for determining spots’ “viral potential” based on factors like its buzz, distinctiveness and celebrity.

“There was no relation between persuasion and viral potential,” said Ann Green, svp of marketing solutions at Millward Brown. “It’s interesting to notice these viral ads are very engaging, but they may not be ultimately persuasive.”

Millward Brown is now offering its creative viral potential measurement as part of the copy-testing process. It has crafted 10 tips for making a TV spot viral, few of which come as a surprise. They include great creativity, wide dissemination, good search optimization and, perhaps most important, the need to “cross your fingers.”

Of the ads Millward Brown studied, spots for E-Trade, Audi, Snickers, Walmart and Coca-Cola were viral hits.

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