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Why Your Ads Go Viral

I just watched an interesting TEDTalk about Why Videos Go Viral from Kevin Allocca, a YouTube Trendwatcher (yes, he watches YouTube videos as a profession).

He explains there are three things that make a video go viral.

  • Tastemakers
  • Participation
  • Unexpectedness

The same three things are true of your advertisements.


If someone of importance takes note of your video – a “tastemaker” whom people follow – then others will take note. In advertising, you have to speak to the people who influence the decision.

McDonald’s has made a mint by advertising to the backseat influencers. A clown and funny characters and toys have been so effective at reaching this audience that people concerned about our children’s health have pushed to ban the golden arches from putting toys in their Happy Meals.

We have a local bra store that advertises on the local sports talk show. Yes, she advertises bras and lingerie on a radio show heavily skewed towards men.  Her message? “Guy, are you tired of hearing your wife complain about her bra not fitting? Send her to Bras That Fit.”

They are speaking to the influencers, the tastemakers.

Your ads should be targeted to the tastemakers, the people who have the influence to send customers your way. Sometimes that is the customer herself, but sometimes it is someone within her circle that has the power to influence her. Let me ask you what would be more effective? A radio ad to a woman about bras, or her husband saying, “Honey, you’ve been complaining so much about your bras. Why don’t you try out that store…?”


What do the Harlem Shake, NYAN Cat, and the Friday Song all have in common? Besides millions of views, they have thousands of knockoffs and spin-offs, and copycats. They have audience participation.

People love to be involved. People love to be included. People love to be loved. In fact, the most seductive word in the English language is a three letter word and it doesn’t include an X.  The most seductive word is…


Do your ads speak directly to the customer (or influencer)? Do your ads talk about the customer twice as much as they talk about your company? Do your ads include the customer as an insider, as a participant? Can your customer see herself doing what you want her to do? When you talk more about her than you do yourself; when you paint a picture of her doing what you want her to do, when you include her as part of you, then you are creating participatory ads.


How many times have you watched a video and wished you had those three minutes back? You aren’t sharing those videos. There has to be something exciting and unexpected for you to hit the share button.

Let’s face it. The expected is so… boring. The expected is so cliche, uninspiring, blah, blah, blah. We are bombarded with thousands of advertising messages a day. We have learned to filter anything that looks or sounds like an ad. We have learned to ignore the mundane. We have learned to pass over the unexciting.

Your ads need to be unexpected, too.

The most effective radio ad I ever ran started with these words… “I couldn’t believe it. They were taking customers into the men’s bathroom…”

After hearing that, you know everyone wanted to hear more. Can you say something totally unexpected to get their attention? Can you then tie that into one interesting point? Can you surprise and excite and delight people in a way that makes them want to hit the share button?

The same principles that make a video go viral also affect the effectiveness of your advertising. You might not get a few million views, but if you follow Kevin’s advice, you can make your advertising budget a heck of a lot more powerful without spending a penny more.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads, calls this the Impact Quotient of your ads. Here is a free download called How Ads Work Part 2 that I wrote to give you examples of how to make your ads more memorable and impactful.

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