Android's most shared ad of all time "fails on branding"

By Alison Lowe | 1 December 2015

Last week Google Android's 'Friends Furever' campaign took the “most shared ad in 2015” title, at the same time finding itself the most shared ad in history. But does this make it the most successful ad of all time?

Dr Karen Nelson-Field, director and associate professor at the Centre for Digital Video Intelligence, part of the University of South Australia's School of Marketing, says not necessarily.

The centre she heads describes its “core purpose” as delivering research that facilitates growth of the online video sector by driving accountability “from those who trade on unsubstantiated 'best practice'” in video virality.

Nelson-Field said that all may not be what it seems with Google Android's 'Friends Furrever' spot, which features a slew of what appear to be YouTube clips of animals playing with each other, followed by a brand message in the final frame.

Author of 'Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing', the academic and marketing specialist has done extensive research on what makes a video get shared a lot. And it's much more than just a succession of furry animals – although this helps.

“You can't actually say (the Android ad is) successful below the surface. It's successful in the sense that shares are a measure of engagement, of interest in the true sense that people like it enough to share it, but it depends on how many views were purchased up front. Distribution is by far the biggest predictor of shares,” Nelson-Field said.

Many of the most widely shared campaigns did not go viral organically. Instead, brands have invested heavily in upfront, paid-for distribution through a variety of channels, making their widespread appeal more evidence of media strategy than of having hit on a magic formula for video virality.

Nelson-Field said the key metric is the view-to-share ratio.

“You could have purchased a million views and got 10,000 shares,” Nelson-Field said. She postulates that a view to share ratio of 24/1 is average, with anything above this better than standard.

On the content front, she said the Android ad's “highly emotive, high arousal” subject matter makes it a winner.

“Animals alone aren't necessarily engaging but when you see something like this with two different types of animals playing, there's the hilarity and astonishment of it," Nelson-Field said. "So it will be more successful than average because its content is quite strong. The more emotive the content, the better the share ratio it's going to achieve.”

Drilling down, she revealed that the most effective type of emotional arousal from a marketing perspective is that which causes a physiological response in the viewer.

“So that's laughing, crying, goosebumps, shortness of breath. Anything that causes a positive physiological reaction - that's where you want to be,” Nelson-Field said.

But while the ad might have hit the right notes on distribution and emotional content, when it comes to branding, Nelson-Field said the spot “absolutely falls down”.

“I think it's really poorly branded. It's a massive missed opportunity. Marketers can try to get viewers to watch to the end but that defeats the purpose. If it's not well branded up front you can lose half your audience.”

Nelson-Field compares the ad to a Walmart campaign she often uses to exemplify poor branding at conferences. Featuring a cat singing 'Jingle Bells', the ad does not let on what it is advertising until the last moment.

“It's really cute but Walmart doesn't reveal the brand until the last frame. I ask people what they think it might be for and they say, 'cat food'. They absolutely don't know what brand it is and they're shocked when I reveal that it's Walmart,” she said.

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