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Why Hollywood is Placing its Bets on Viral Video

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Summer blockbuster season is here, and Hollywood studios are pulling out all the stops to promote their big films. Aside from TV commercials, billboards, product tie-ins, and the usual ilk, Hollywood is trying something new this year to promote their summer flicks: viral video campaigns. In fact, Hollywood is leading the charge when it comes to this emerging marketing medium -- combining their long-held creative and distribution prowess to produce slick viral videos that get shared by millions of viewers.

This is such an interesting subject to me that I met with Dan Greenberg, CEO of social video ad company Sharethrough, recently to talk about some of the ways Hollywood is setting the pace for viral video.

MG: What makes a video go "viral"?

DG: Viral video is both an art and a science. The science behind making a video "go viral" involves creating content that's likely to be shared, using new distribution techniques and social tactics to increase sharing, and optimizing content in response to sharing patterns.
Videos that get shared have three main psychological motivators: emotion, identity, and information.

Creating an emotional video that is touching, sad, funny, or scary will boost its chance of getting shared. Sharing feelings is a basic human need. If your video captures a human emotion, users will share it, because they are not just sharing your content, they are sharing the feeling your video has created.

Videos that tap into people's individual identity also get shared a lot. When you recommend a movie, band, or book to a friend, these recommendations partly define your tastes, thoughts, and personality. When creating a viral video, it's important to ask: "When a user shares this video, what are they saying about themselves?" No one wants to share a video that would reflect badly on them, so viral videos tend to have messages that people want to align themselves with. If you want your video to go viral among a certain demographic, make sure the content maps to this group's taste, sense of humor, or collective beliefs.

Informational videos also get shared widely. People are hard-wired to teach, learn, and share information, and if they see an online video that contains interesting or useful information, they will be highly likely to share it.

MG: What's the "state of the industry" when it comes to viral video?

DG: Viral video has moved from an experimental practice to an established, measurable marketing tactic that delivers real results. Videos that "go viral" aren't just happy accidents anymore: when you see a video with over a million views, there's typically some smart distribution and optimization strategies involved. We actually use the term "social video advertising" to refer to our category, because advertisers can now invest in making their video content go viral, just like they would invest in distributing a TV commercial. This is definitely becoming a much more mainstream practice; a few months ago, we crunched numbers at my company and found that the average viral video campaign budget tripled from a year earlier - which goes to show how seriously brands are taking viral video.

Why is this approach becoming so much more common? Because people will watch videos that feel like "experiences" where they won't watch videos that feel like ads. Your garden-variety video ad is typically just a TV commercial distributed on the web, which we've all learned to ignore. Social video is about content that people enjoy and will want to share.
In the very near future, sharing will become the Holy Grail for advertisers. A shared view is not only "earned media" that advertisers don't have to pay for, but studies also show that when a brand video is shared, viewers will spend up to three times more time watching it.

MG: How has Hollywood led the pack around viral video?

DG: When it comes to movies, word-of-mouth has always been a key factor in success. Hollywood has always found innovative ways to combine creativity and distribution to build buzz around a film. Viral video isn't that different. It's about creating exciting, engaging, thought-provoking content, then using innovative social distribution tactics to get people to share this content with friends.

Hollywood understands perhaps better than any other sector that people embrace and share content, not ads. The old-fashioned movie trailer is actually a pre-cursor to viral video. People have been sharing movie trailers online before the term "viral video" even existed, and trailers are shared more than twice as often as other video content! Now Hollywood is leveraging this huge head start to create specific videos to boost movie buzz before and during a film release.
Hollywood really gets the idea that great content gets shared. They start with creating gripping content, such as a trailer, then devise a distribution strategy to make sure that content is seen by as many people as possible. In the past decade, they've also learned how to distribute trailers online (sometimes "leaking" them) to boost viral sharing.

Hollywood is now getting more sophisticated with trailer marketing, and taking full advantage of the flexibility of social video to distribute "red band" (racy or R-rated) clips, long-form trailers, and subversive, funny, or tangential viral videos that are only lightly connected to a film along with their standard trailers to keep things interesting. This non-standard content actually generates much higher rates of sharing than regular trailers because of the feeling of exclusivity as stand-alone content.

Movie marketers are also taking steps to distribute videos to a social audience - the people most likely to watch and share their content. For example, Hollywood was among the first to test drive distribution of movie trailers into social games on Facebook. Movie marketers are also trailblazing trans-media distribution across tablets, mobile apps, video games, e-books and e-comic books, and other related online media.

MG: What do you see coming down the pike from Hollywood?

DG: Hollywood is already doing interesting work in measuring the impact of viral video. They are using advanced analytics to measure the reach and sharing patterns of video trailers among different demographics, then using this data to understand demographics and potential markets where they should first release films.

Movie marketers were also among the first to measure social video metrics such as "sharethrough rate" -- which measures the rate at which a video is shared -- in order to quantify viral success. By measuring sharethrough rates, movie studios can better understand which trailers to use for online advertising campaigns targeted to specific demographics; which demographics to include in campaign targeting; and even which potential markets hold the most potential for high ticket sales.

MG: What are some recent examples of innovative campaigns?

DG: We loved Disney's short original video they produced to promote the new Muppets movie Green With Envy that is a parody of The Hangover II -- this is a great example of moving away from traditional trailers to more original content.

Another great example of non-standard content is the interactive YouTube video page for Kung Fu Panda 2 that features a mix of videos of Jack Black and the animated main character, Po.

We also think the promotion for Super 8 has really taken things to another level. For example, they actually placed an interactive video ad for the movie as a playable level inside of the video game, Portal 2. Look for more of this type of social video integration in the future, both on console games as well as inside social games on Facebook.

If you want to find out more about viral videos and how you can use them in your business and leadership, Dan is presenting a two-hour workshop on making videos go viral on June 22nd at the Cannes Lions conference. This is a fascinating subject that is definitely key to a successful future.