How to use emotions to create viral, shareable video content

What makes great video content and how can brands ensure it reaches the right audience?

These were just some of the questions addressed by Gregory Fournier, director, strategic partnerships, APAC, Unruly, at the recent ClickZ Live digital marketing conference.

Unruly is behind some of the world’s most famous social videos. Its clients include Unilever, Johnny Walker and Mondelez. It works with brands to help their video content to go viral in two ways:

1. Testing for shareability before publishing by checking the content is:

  • Shareable
  • Integral to the brand
  • Relevant to the audience

2. Using the test results to work on the distribution and amplification of videos in a native format outside the main platforms of Facebook and YouTube (on the Open Web).

What makes an ad ‘shareable’?

What is the most shared ad in Southeast Asia? For the past 30 years, Thai Life Insurance has famously drawn on the same set of emotions when developing advertising campaigns. It has become the industry leader in the region when it comes to human-interest stories.

Here’s an example:

Thai Life Insurance: Unsung Hero (2014)

This particular video may have had almost 28 million views, but Fournier says Southeast Asia’s most shared ad is in fact this one from MetLife:

MetLife: My Dad’s Story (2015)

MetLife’s My Dad’s Story is an example of how to copy the master, and then be better, says Fournier. By copying (and more cleverly distributing the content), MetLife’s video above, has been shared 1.5 million times.

Shares versus views

Shares are important because they are the one thing that cannot be bought. A view for example, doesn’t count for a lot if a robot is viewing it.

“Shares are the gold currency of the digital economy. You share when you care, and you share only when you want to,” says Fournier.

“When you do that, you are sending a message to your friends about a particular brand or product – you are endorsing it, you are vetting it, and your friends and your network look at this particular video with a different mindset,” he adds.

The content is therefore being viewed not as a piece of advertising but as a piece of electronic word of mouth.

Fournier says he is often asked about how to make a campaign viral.

“Viral applies to Ebola – it is unpredictable. Shareable is when you start talking about business impact. It is not random and it starts with a very clever strategy,” he says.

Shares and emotions

People share when they feel emotions. Therefore, understanding how emotions work together with shares forms a key part of Unruly’s work.

“When you feel an emotion when you watch a video, subconsciously we are making a little space here for the brand name,” says Fournier. This is why emotion matters. And the most elicited emotion across Southeast Asia, according to Fournier, is happiness.

Advertising overload

Getting the consumer’s attention is becoming a more and more expensive task.

According to DoubleClick Display Benchmarks, in 2002, click through rates were around 2.4%. In 2015, just 0.2%.

“People are banner blind, they have content shock from the sheer amount of information,” says Fournier.

With so much advertising focused on brands talking about themselves or their products, word of mouth has become today’s most trusted piece of advertising.

CZLJKT_Unruly_YouGov_97% don't trust ads_600

In addition to advertisements today being too repetitive, or being targeted at the wrong people at the wrong times, forcing an audience to watch your ad (in a pre-roll, or an unskippable ad, for example) is just as counterproductive.


“One way to make sure you are not being seen by a robot, is to not to have these forced views. If you ask the audience to click the video, if the content is user initiated, if the user is in control, then that’s when you talk about social video,” says Fournier.

How to increase effectiveness

One of the best examples of ‘valuable’ virility is Volkswagen’s 2011 Super Bowl commercial, says Fournier.

Volkswagen Passat: Darth Vader (2011)

He says 42% of shares happened in the first three days of the campaign.

“Volkswagen was stepping into very different emotional territory [with this ad], it was relevant to the audience, it was shareable online and it was integral to the brand. It drove emotion and it drove sales,” says Fournier.

CZLJKT_Unruly_23% lift_600

Predicting shareability

Data today allows marketers to understand who is sharing, what they share, in what format, and at what time. This in turn helps with the distribution of content.

The hardest part of the equation is understanding why people share.

Here is Unruly’s ShareRank Elements and Periodic Table outlining the different weightings of shareability based on the emotions evoked.

CZLJKT_Periodic Table of Unruly ShareRank Elements_600

Unruly created this table by combining its substantial data from tracking video shares across the web with studies from a number of global universities looking at the correlation between emotions and human responses.

The number of tiny crosses in each box denotes strength. (Emotions on the left hand side are stronger than those on the right.)

Red squares denote social motivation, while purple denotes primal emotions – such as anger and fear. Fournier advises that purple emotions in a video should be offset with a positive ending.

The human brain works in three different ways, says Fournier:

  • Cognitive responses: how you process knowledge, feel like you are learning something, or whether you are shocked or confused.
  • Basic emotions: pride, happiness, sadness, and admiration – what you use to build up memory.
  • Primal responses: vital functions and instinctive reactions: fear, anger, arousal…

The two key drivers to share:

  • Emotions: This is subconscious. “I don’t choose to love, I don’t choose to cry, I don’t choose to feel goose bumps after a very emotional video – but I do. And I need to feel something strong for me to share,” says Fournier.
  • Social motivations: When I choose consciously to share for a particular reason.

The science of storytelling

Different emotions need different amounts of time to build. For example, to build empathy needs a two-minute video. Surprise or making people laugh on the other hand can be achieved in 30-seconds.

“So understanding the emotions you want to evoke in your audience can determine the format, the length of your video, and understanding the emotion you want to evoke will also impact on the call to action you are going to give them,” says Fournier.

For example, selling personal care to a woman in Asia relies on three key emotions: warmth, sadness and inspiration.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches (2013)

In this Dove video, the emotional journey begins by feeling warmed up, then the audience feels a little bit sad, and finally, they feel inspired because it has a positive ending.

Reasons to share content

The reasons people share content depends on many factors and varies across demographics.

People might share content with friends because:

  • of a shared passion
  • it is useful to them
  • they are catching up later and want to talk about it in real life
  • it’s a good cause
  • it’s trending on something famous like the Olympics or a movie release
  • it’s a conversation starter
  • self expression (it says something about themselves)
  • opinion seeking
  • reaction seeking
  • attention seeking

If your target audience are mothers, they will react to hilarity and warmth. For millennials, make them laugh with exhilaration. Generation X (people over 40) respond to nostalgia and surprise, says Fournier.


Unruly begins by placing video content outside Facebook and YouTube on the Open Web.

For example, a video aimed at mums should be initially placed on a site where mothers go. For example, parenting sites, mummy blogs, pregnancy sites or niche fashion sites.

“If that video is seen as a piece of legitimate content, she will engage with it because her mind is already set on that type of activity and she will share it with people she trusts,” says Fournier.

This is where great performance starts – seeding on the Open Web and then redirecting the traffic back to a Facebook or YouTube site.

Seeding through different formats also allows for user control – where the user can choose to click (or not) on the video.

Finally, make it easy to share in one click.

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