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Study suggests formula for viral success on YouTube

Researchers at the University of Melbourne have identified a formula to understand why some branded movies go viral on the internet.

In a study of more than 130 YouTube movies created by some of the biggest brands, researchers identified patterns which form the basis of a Branded Viral Movie Predictor algorithm, which they say identifies why some movies are watched and passed on more than others.

YouTube provides a powerful medium for branded short movies. The popular ones go viral resulting in millions of views. Evian’s Roller Babies – which made the Guinness book of records for recording more than 45 million online views, Justin Bieber promotions, Everyone by Old Spice and The Force by Volkswagen are some of the viral success stories.

Researchers say that the most viewed movies tend to have four key elements. One factor is congruency – the degree to which people reflect on their own value systems when processing the viral movie.

Another factor is emotive strength – whether the movie evokes an emotion strong enough to sink into the long term memory of the viewer.

Researchers say the extent to which viewers are motivated to accept the movie and then pass it onto others is also important, this is termed the network-involvement ratio, for example, Universities often seed new virals because of similarities in interests and values among students.

The final ingredient is paired meme element synergy – when certain behaviours in the movie are paired correctly to illicit a high level of interest from the viewer, for example, impromptu entertainment paired with anticipation.

Researchers say the study helps understand the growing influence of YouTube movies which aim to sell a brand with sight and sound rather than descriptions or static pictures.

Dr Brent Coker, from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics says that for many brands creating a 30 second YouTube movie that goes viral is the holy grail of marketing.

“Some well known ingredients known to increase the chances of viral success such as babies, pranks and stunts seem to have great success on some occasions, but turn into catastrophic failures on others,”he says.

“As soon as many people sense the movie is actually an advertisement, the virility of the movie typically gets cut short. This algorithm highlights the four essential elements that are necessary to ensure the success and longevity of a viral movie.”

More information:

Dr Brent Coker, Faculty of Business and Economics T:+61 3 8344 1933 | M:+61 (0)421 764 085 |

Joanne Morrison (Media Unit) T:+61 3 8344 0561

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