HBR: What Virals Ads can Tell Us About Engaging Visitors

Evian's Roller Babies commercial demonstrates what makes an ad go viral.

The March 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review focuses on U. S. business competitiveness in the world and won’t interest most readers of EngagingPlaces.net, however, there are a few smaller stories scattered around that are relevant.  Thales Texiera’s article on “The New Science of Viral Ads” lays out five techniques that encourage people to watch and share their commercials (in other words, “go viral”) and I’ve modified three of them to address the needs of visitors at historic sites:

  • Play down the logo, play up the brand.  If your logo is too dominant or intrusive, visitors will be turned off by this obvious attempt to manipulate them.  A few places are fine and expected (e.g. letterhead, entrance sign, mugs in the store) but I’ve visited sites where a logo is on every sign, including the one pointing to the bathroom.  It may make your board happy, but it’ll turn off your visitors.  Instead, unobtrusively weave your brand (not logo) throughout the visitor experience.  Texiera uses Coca-Cola’s “Happiness Factory” ad as an example (how was the Coca-Cola logo used?).
  • Create joy and surprise right away.  Visitors stay engaged in large part if they encounter joy or surprise.  So in tours, for example, add an element of joy or surprise into the introduction rather than saving it only for the conclusion.  Each site will need to figure this out for themselves, but it can be a surprising fact or an earnest welcome. Bud Light’s “Swear Jar” ad is an example of delivering humor and surprise to maintain viewers’ interest (and just a warning, this ad may offend some people and because it promotes the drinking of alcohol, you’ll need to register as an adult on YouTube to view it).
  • Build an emotional roller coaster.  Just as in a good novel, the rhythm or flow helps carry the visitor along and keeps them engaged with fresh twists and turns.  Tours too often are presented as just one fact/object/room after another.  Instead of building a tour solely on cognitive elements (e.g. facts, names, and dates), integrate some affective ones (e.g., humor, surprise, suspense, drama, fun)–just make sure it’s appropriate, authentic, and based on fact.  Evian’s “Roller Babies” cuts between scenes for an emotional roller coaster of continual surprises.  With more than 50 million views on YouTube, it’s a major hit.

For more, read Thales Texiera’s article on “The New Science of Viral Ads” online or watch the five-minute interview that accompanies the story.