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Five Viral Videos You Didn’t Know Were Ads

Insights October 17, 2013

At the Dawn of Television, back before the evolution of the TiVo and the DVR, before big screens and flat screens, HDMI’s and 1080p, the video ad industry was an exciting and thriving landscape full of creativity and possibility.  Advertisers were learning how to transition from the long established world of print media to the magic of moving pictures and sound.  It was the wild west of commercial video, and the law of the land had not yet taken control.  Standard ads would routinely run 60 seconds or more, and viewers had no choice but to sit through them and patiently absorb their messages.  It was every marketer’s dream.


Throughout the next half century, however, the world of video advertising began to change.  Attention spans got shorter, viewing options became more and more plentiful, and the cost of ad space continued to rise.  Soon, marketers were struggling to fit their very important messages into ad spaces of 15 seconds or less.  Viewers gained the ability to record their favorite shows and fast-forward through commercials at their leisure!  The calamity!


Luckily, throughout this evolutionary process a new delivery method for video was born, and the endless possibilities of the early days of television were made to look like cookie cutter standardization!  The Internet had arrived, and it wasted no time in learning how to sell.


Now, brands have more options, more freedom for creativity, and more flexibility than ever before when it comes to marketing with video.  So much so, in fact, that they often allow their own names and faces to take a backseat to the content itself.  A common practice in this new world of limitless choices, is to create a video that first and foremost, viewers will choose to watch (and share), allowing the message of the brand to be conveyed naturally and, in some cases even subconsciously.


The result of this new trend is that in many instances, you may not even know that you’re watching an ad until it’s too late (or in some cases never at all).  Here are a few viral videos that you’ve probably seen before, but unless you were paying close attention, you might not have even known were ads.



1. Coca Cola Security Cameras



This video was released by Coca Cola 10 months ago, and achieved viral status shortly thereafter.  Unless you stick it out to the very end (90 seconds, an eternity in the world of video advertising) you would never once see an image of the product, a logo, or a mention of Coca Cola anywhere.  The only instance of brand recognition you might notice would be Coke’s signature red and white color palette in the opening title slide – a stretch at best.


No, rather than promoting their brand, Coca Cola decided instead to promote a feeling, a message of optimism and togetherness that reels in the audience and establishes a tight bond with the brand by the time the connection is finally made.


2. Expedia – Find Your Understanding



If Coca Cola’s 90-second ad is an eternity, than Expedia’s “Find Your Understanding” ad breaks the mold and proves that 15-second T.V. spots are the video ads of the past.  Coming in at 3 minutes and 19 seconds, you won’t see a logo or hear a mention of Expedia until 3:08, as the music begins to fade and the heartwarming, tear-jerking story you just sniffled your way through comes to an uplifting and satisfying close.


Again, Expedia is not selling us plane tickets or hotel rooms with this ad.  They’re selling us on travel and togetherness.  They’re selling us on flying across the country to support our families.  Hell, they’re selling us on love, and boy are we buying.


3.  Dove – Real Beauty Sketches



Just a few years ago, if you went to a major brand like Dove and pitched a 6 minute and 35 second long commercial, they would likely squirt moisturizing soap in your eyes and call you terrible, awful names while kicking you.* However, times have changed, and with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter allowing consumers to share touching stories and messages at their leisure, viewers are  more open than ever to sitting through a video that they find to be engaging and enjoyable, no matter how long.


After a six and a half minute lesson in self-esteem, Dove’s logo finally appears along with a message telling us “You are more beautiful than you think.”  After wiping my eyes (I got some soap in there guys, I swear) and sharing the link on Facebook, I have an urge deep down in my heart to go buy shampoo.


*This hypothetical situation is not an accurate representation of Dove’s marketing department or their stance on constructive criticism.


4. TNT – Daily Dose of Drama



Not all viral video advertisements need to be tear-jerkers, some can be white-knucklers!  This action packed ad for TNT was released in April of 2012 and has since been viewed nearly 50 million times on YouTube.  In true viral video ad fashion, the content comes first and TNT’s logo is quite literally unfurled at the 90-second mark, at which point your adrenaline is pumping harder than Batman’s when he fought that shark.


This viral video is an amplification of guerrilla marketing, utilizing a real life stunt to draw attention to the brand, and then broadcasting the results to the rest of the world on the Internet.


5. Geico – Hump Day



This video.  Oh, this video.  It’s a departure from the rest, in that it was made to air on T.V. and went viral as an afterthought (there’s no disguising this one as an ad), but it’s a perfect example of repurposing great content in different media outlets. Love it or hate it, you can’t argue that it is likely one of the most successful video advertisements we’ve seen this year, garnering attention through television, online, and being quoted so often in real life that it was even banned from a school district in Connecticut.


The Internet has opened the door to using video in more creative ways than ever before.   From an SEO perspective, premium, highly shareable content like the videos listed above mean easy links, and lots of ‘em.  Sometimes, it takes letting go of the sales pitch and focusing on the content to make a message stick.  A risk, for sure, but one with endless possibilities for reward.

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