Looking to make a viral video splash? Who better to teach success than the Coke and Mentos guys? Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe have just written The Viral Video Manifesto . We’re pleased to present this excerpt.
The time-honored approach in advertising is that lots is good and more is better. Traditional marketers are getting more and more creative about finding ways to get their brand, their logo, and their message in front of consumers as often as humanly possible. As Louise Story noted in the New York Times, subway turnstiles have sported Geico logos, fresh eggs in the carton have been stamped with the names of CBS television shows, Verizon has emblazoned its logo on pizza boxes, and US Airways has found advertisers so eager to get their messages in front of consumers that it has even sold ad space on airsickness bags. According to the market research firm Yankelovich, Inc., in the 1980s typical city dwellers had some 2,000 brand messages foisted upon them every day. Today that number is up to 5,000. Per day. Every day.
But conventional branding with its ever-present logos, product shots, and brand messages will kill your video’s chances of going viral.
If you load your video with branding, the risk is that it begins to look like an ad, you lose your emotional connection with the viewers, and you don’t go viral. Basically, you can have either a video with 20 perfect product shots that gets 25,000 views or a video with 1 nice product shot that gets 2,500,000 views. You can’t usually have both.
Most of the time, a product or logo shot simply gets in the way of the content your audience has come to see. To maximize contagiousness, you need a very light brand touch. Don’t let your product shot be a waste of our time. Don’t let the presence of your brand kill the contagiousness.
To go viral, you want your video to be nothing but money shots, and 9 times out of 10, a product shot is not a money shot. It’s an interruption. You can’t promise your viewer something awesome and then interrupt with something else. In short, a brand message inserted when the audience is expecting something else isn’t a money shot. It’s an annoying non sequitur that hurts both your brand and your chances of going viral. You don’t want your video weighed down with interruptions of any sort, and interrupting it with your brand isn’t just going to hurt your chances of going viral. It’s going to make the viewers who do see your piece associate your brand with being annoyed.
For your work to go viral, you need to look for ways to seamlessly merge your brand message to the unique, unforgettable content you’re hoping will be contagious. How can you tell if you’ve done that? How do you know that you’ve adequately integrated your brand message into your video?
There’s a simple test.
The way to tell if your product or logo shot is appropriate for a video you’re hoping will go viral is to ask yourself this: Is your product shot something your audience wants to see? If not, get rid of it.
A product or logo shot — or indeed any shot for that matter — works in viral video only when it provides information the viewer wants when the viewer wants it. For example, in the Will It Blend?  videos, the Blendtec product shots are essential to the content. After we see the blender chew up a bag of marbles, we do indeed want to see what kind of blender it is. At that point, the brand name is information we want. That is exactly what you want to do with your brand.
When it comes to product shots, integrate or eliminate.
Strategy 1: Be the Content
Ideally, you want to find a way to integrate your brand into the video in a way that would make sense even if your brand weren’t a sponsor. For example, take a look at the brand presence in our Coke and Mentos videos or in Levi’s Guys Backflip into Jeans video . The brands in those videos are organically integrated into the content, so there’s no need to insert irrelevant product shots.
In The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments, we needed our audience to understand that those huge 25-foot geysers we were making were created using just Diet Coke and Mentos mint candies, so it made perfect sense to show those two products clearly in the beginning of that video and then just to use them throughout.
In Levi’s Guys Backflip into Jeans (8 million views), a video that consists of a series of progressively more difficult stunts in which guys jump, and eventually backflip, into a pair of Levi’s, the iconic Levi’s jeans are essential to the premise, and it only makes sense to show them clearly in each stunt.
The best strategy is to integrate your product or brand message organically into your video the way Blendtec, Coke and Mentos, and Levi’s have been integrated. But even when there’s no easy way to integrate your brand into the content itself, there’s great second strategy.
Strategy 2: Be the Source
When product integration isn’t an option, a simple and effective solution is to be the source of the content that makes us smile. Take credit for being the cool people who made this cool video happen.
Companies like Cadbury, Sony, and T-Mobile have found great success by simply being associated with viral phenomena. Often, the only hint you have that the video was sponsored at all is a title card or two at the end that connect it with the brand.
T-Mobile used this approach effectively in The T-Mobile Dance  (35 million views), a video inspired by Improv Everywhere, a performance art group renowned for their flash mob videos in which an assortment of people appears in a public place without any warning, does something unexpected, and then melts away, back into the crowd.
The T-Mobile Dance begins with a shot of the usual hustle and bustle in London’s Liverpool Street Station at 11 o’clock in the morning. After a few seconds, music starts blasting over the PA: “We-e-e-ll, you make me wanna shout. . . .” Right in the middle of the station, a few people start dancing. After a few seconds, the music changes, and even more dancers join in, and we realize that this is a surprise performance, a flash mob, carefully choreographed with lots of dancers hidden among the crowd.
Soon, the floor of the station is covered with dancers—350 altogether— and for about two and a half minutes, they waltz, disco, pop and lock, do the mashed potato, and more. Interspersed throughout the video are shots of passersby stopping to watch and even joining in. It’s great.
At the end, two title cards come up: “Life’s for Sharing” and a T-Mobile logo with a website address. Out of 2 minutes and 41 seconds, the only brand presence is in the video’s title and in the final 7 seconds.
British chocolatier Cadbury has been a master of this approach ever since its classic Cadbury Gorilla  video from 2007. That year the company was scrambling to find a way to respond to a public relations disaster. Salmonella contamination had been found in some of its chocolate, and the company had been forced to recall 1 million bars of chocolate. Cadbury had taken a £30 million hit to its sales (about $60 million), and it had suffered serious and potentially long-term damage to its reputation.
Faced with a crucial need to take the public’s mind off of the salmonella scare and give the brand other, more positive associations, the company jettisoned its traditional advertising approach and hired Fallon London to refocus its advertising on word-of-mouth and viral marketing. Fallon London and creative director Juan Cabral came up with the idea for what became known as the Cadbury Gorilla (6.7 million views), a quirky, somewhat puzzling 90-second video in which what appears to be either a gorilla or a person in a convincingly realistic gorilla suit sits at a drum set, drumsticks in hand, listening to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” When the music reaches the drum solo, the gorilla takes over and drums like a rock star. Finally, in the last 5 seconds, the image of the drumming gorilla fades into an image of a Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar and the words “a glass and a half full of joy.”
Apart from a brief opening title saying “Glass and a Half Full Production” in white on a Cadbury purple background, the only branding in the entire 90 seconds is the 5-second tag at the end. Yet that video was a resounding marketing, image rebuilding, and sales success. The impact of the video was so great that Todd Stitzer, Cadbury’s CEO at the time, called 2007 “The Year of the Gorilla.”
Both T-Mobile and Cadbury have recognized the strength of light branding, and they have successfully repeated that formula again and again with videos like Cadbury Eyebrows  (9.3 million views), The T-Mobile Welcome Back  (12 million views), and The T-Mobile Royal Wedding  (26 million views). And they’re not the only brands doing it. Sony Bravia has used this same style of light branding in their series of big viral hits including Balls, Paint, and Play-Doh. Stride gum used this sponsorship approach in Where the Hell Is Matt? 2006 (18 million views) and liked it so much, they sponsored the sequel, Where the Hell Is Matt? 2008 (43 million views), one of our favorite viral videos of all time. We will be forever grateful to Stride for making that video possible.
In video after video, all these companies have repeatedly kept their brand presence very light, just a title card or two at the end saying who made this awesomeness possible. They’ve seen the results you get when the branding itself doesn’t interfere with the contagiousness. That’s important.
But Does It Move Product?
Traditional advertising pros may fret over the limited brand presence in these kinds of videos, but only because they don’t yet understand the difference between what works online and what works in traditional advertising. Trust us, light branding moves product.
Just ask Blendtec. Their CEO (and viral video star) Tom Dickson reports that their sales went up 700 percent as a result of the Will It Blend? videos. Those videos put the Blendtec brand on the map. Well-established companies have gotten remarkable results as well.
The Financial Times reported that sales for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bars spiked by 9 percent in the two months after the video was released and were up 4 to 5 percent for the year. And according to a case study by T-Mobile’s online partner Unruly Media, The T-Mobile Dance generated not just extraordinary word of mouth for the company but it also contributed to a 22 percent sales uplift for T-Mobile handsets.
In our first two Coke and Mentos viral video hits, we worked hard to eliminate every unnecessary product shot, yet using that light branding approach, both of those videos generated sales spikes of more than 5 percent in U.S. sales of two-liter bottles of Diet Coke. Sales of Mentos in the United States jumped 15 percent for the year in just three months.
Our videos generated those kinds of sales because they went viral. Tens of millions of people watched them and liked them so much that they passed them on to their friends. And sales shot up. But if those videos had been saddled with traditional logo and product shots, they wouldn’t have gone viral, no one would have seen them, and they would have had no effect on sales.
Approach your branding with a very light touch the way we did with Coke and Mentos, the way T-Mobile, Cadbury, Sony, Stride, and others have done, and your work has a chance to go viral and carry your message to millions. Approach it the way traditional marketers do, however, and your hopes to go viral will likely be dead on arrival.
From The Viral Video Manifesto  by Stephen Voltz & Fritz Grobe, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. Copyright 2013.