Creating a successful and impactful branded online video is both an art and a science, and as technologies, platforms, ad sales strategies, and consumer tastes remain constantly in flux, scoring a direct hit is no small achievement. In recent articles we’ve learned what brands need to understand about the nature of branded video  and which creative strategies no longer guarantee success . So now it’s time for one last big question: Which approaches to branded video are the most timely, fresh, and effective right now?
The answers, it turns out, are both creative and strategic, a mix of coming up with the right message or story, matching it to the right demographic, and deploying it on the right platform. But while there are many moving parts, the most important one is always the brand itself. You can’t make a move until you fully grasp what the brand stands for and what its message is meant to be. “What is the goal? What is the story?” asks Ryan O’Hara Theisen, founder and executive creative director of Lucky Branded Entertainment . That’s always where you begin.
Say it With a Smile
Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account knows that humor will always work, but proceed with caution.
“Humor can help you hold onto a viewer,” says Michael Baliber,senior vice president and director of digital media strategy at ID Media , “but you have to make sure it doesn’t take away from the essence of the brand.”
In other words, you can make fun of yourself…but not too much. One award-winning example: Dumb Ways to Die , an animated public service announcement from Melbourne, Australia, about train safety that has garnered 85 million views and 5 Cannes Lion awards. Not bad for a three-minute ditty about death that was relatively inexpensive to produce.
Tug at Heartstrings
It’s a true creative feat to be able to bring viewers to tears in two minutes or less, but those who can do it are often rewarded with millions of likes and shares, as well as a warm, fuzzy feeling that envelops the brand. Thai ad agencies have succeeded several times, most recently with Thailand DTAC Power of Love , a branded video for a cell phone company that actually encourages viewers to put their cell phones down. Another uplifter is Look Inside. Jack Andraka , a two-minute montage about the 15-year-old winner of the Gordon E. Moore Award at Intel’s International Science and Engineering Fair. Can Intel cure cancer? Maybe not, but if Jack Andraka does, Intel will be there to bask in his afterglow.
David Murdico, Executive Creative Director of Supercool Creative , is a fan of the creative and execution behind the #Always LikeAGirl  video from Always, although he feels its female self-esteem message isn’t quite as successful as last year’s Dove Real Beauty spots.
“The execution was great, but I think the premise was forced, and when you force it, you draw attention to the fact that you’re selling a product,” Murdico says.
The main challenge here, says Baliber, is to put such videos in the right contextual environment, which can be tricky if you buy audiences programmatically.
“If I know I’m positioning against news content, I may not want to deliver an emotional message,” Baliber says. “Creative and media have to come together to decide the best places for the video to land.”
An absolutely gripping video like Save the Children’s Most Shocking Second a Day , which depicts peaceful England turning into a gruesome battleground in a series of short and increasingly terrifying vignettes, would have to be placed carefully.
Create — and Use — Fans with Series and Contests
“I’m a big fan of web video series and contests, if you can keep them interesting,” says Murdico. “Rob Dyrdyk, the pro skateboarder and host of ‘Ridiculousness,’ is doing a great job with Lunchables Uploaded , a year-long contest and video series which has been running since last year and still seems to be still going strong.” Whenever you can do a series and get fans involved at the same time, it’s a winning combination, Murdico says. “He’s got his own videos plus all the fan videos, so it adds up to a lot of views — a persistent amount of attention directed squarely at a targeted fan base over a long period of time.”
Current events can add urgency to a branded video campaign as long as the event, be it a Super Bowl, an Olympics, or a World Cup, is scheduled in advance. P&G’s Proud Sponsor of Moms  series tied into the recent Winter Olympics with a healthy dose of emotion, while the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion took a funny swipe  at Russia’s anti-gay policies, combining topicality with humor.
Match Nostalgia to Demographic Segments
A “Leave It to Beaver” reference may stop you or your parents in your tracks, but your kids may be clueless. Nostalgia can work, but it has to address the target demographic. RadioShack’s 2014 Super Bowl ad  enjoyed a long viral life online by bringing back more than a dozen iconic ‘80s personalities to poke self-aware fun at the store’s stodgy image. It was a good match for a big slice of the Super Bowl audience, who shared it with their similarly aged friends, but twentysomethings might have been scratching their heads.
Consider Colonizing Instagram
“Instagram will have an impact on how planners and creatives integrate video into both their owned and paid social media strategy,” says Baliber. For now, he says, the ad industry is taking note of how big brands are populating their own Instagram accounts with short branded videos. According to Unruly Media , last year, 40 percent of Instagram videos came from brands. Big names such as Doritos , Taco Bell, H&M, Coke, McDonald’s , Nike, and KFC  have all been lauded for successful Instagram video efforts. Remember, Baliber points out, that unlike TV viewers, your online audience is just one step away from active engagement. That’s what makes a successful branded video so powerful.