Top 5 takeaways from clever video campaigns

Video is one of the fastest growing channels in digital, and many believe it is the keystone to successful branding today. With such high stakes, it seemed prudent to take a look at some of the best video campaigns out there and see what we can learn about what makes a video work in our fragmented, multi-screen environment. Here are five lessons, and an example or two for each to prove the points.

Deliver a brand mission

Mission-driven marketing is certainly in vogue. These days, many new brands are born with a mission that is far grander than cleaning plaque or on-time arrivals. According to most research, mission is particularly important to Millennials, who expect brands to do good as much as they work well.

One of the most successful viral campaigns this year is from Momondo, which delivers its brand message within the context of a larger belief in global citizenship and an end to parochial thinking. This video, entitled “The DNA Journey,” communicates both this mission and a powerful message about Momondo travel experiences.

But mission can also play a key role for very established trademarks. Genuine brand transformation is incredibly difficult, especially for trademarks that have been around for decades. Years ago, Dove was a brand that had descended into dowdiness, and could well have followed products like Lux and Camay into niche irrelevance. But their female empowerment efforts, delivered largely through viral video campaigns, have made Dove and its beauty products a global juggernaut.

Make no mistake, 90-plus percent of what Dove does is about bars, bottles, and tubes. But it’s those few percent invested in their empowerment message that people love Dove for. Appreciation for this campaign isn’t universal — some find the idea of a beauty brand taking “high ground” as shamelessly commercial. To which I can only say, yep, Dove is trying to sell stuff, big surprise. But it took courage and commitment to zig when the rest of the industry swerves to a photoshopped zag. And millions — tens of millions — love Unilever for spending millions to make them feel better rather than worse.

Leverage surprise and simplicity

When you consider how, where, and when most videos get consumed, it’s clear that creating video concepts requires a different sensibility. Brands that win use simple visuals, great pacing, and content that makes the play button leap toward our tapping finger. TV news was transformed by Fox’s Chiron innovation that puts competing streams of content on the big screen so users stick around even when the talking heads get boring.

But for mobile and laptop, visual focus is key, as is unique subject matter. This video from Android, playing on the brilliant idea that using the world’s most popular OS is actually individualistic, became one of the most popular videos of 2016, with well over 6 million shares.

Use the new subtitle “convention”

I first noticed these on the blizzard of Hillary videos that fill my Facebook Newsfeed — big subtitles that you can read on the smallest players. The text helps tell the story, even when all you see are talking heads. Text overlays are really valuable when your messages auto-play in social streams with the sound off until you choose to activate the sound.

I am using a political example here, and I apologize for that. For this is a horribly divisive election, and it’s not my intention to add to the din of ugly. But the Clinton team is great at using these to pull people into a story while also branding with its bold, custom font. If your brand uses Facebook, Twitter, or other social communities for video distribution, get these integrated into your ads ASAP.

Tell the story visually

This might seem a contradiction to the point above, but small-screen views are often best served with powerful and unusual visuals that show rather than say. The Coke Open Happiness campaign could have been a montage of 238 images of smiling people of all nations and an accessible, sanitized hip-hop jingle. Instead, the world’s favorite soft drink grabbed our attention almost as powerfully as the stunts it depicts.

Years ago, I attended a two-day seminar focused on how pictures are far more powerful than narration in TV ads. The program was a stunning defense of the product demo — visual expressions of brand differentiation. These days I don’t think people will sit through three Pyrex cups of different color powder morphing into a bigger cup of DirtBeGone(r) Ultra. But they will connect and remember when a brand like Coke showcases how they brought laughter and happiness to a Brazilian favela. And the supers help too!

Or how about a different type of happiness, told by Filipino émigrés. I dare you to try to watch it and not shed a tear.

Build on a point of agreement

In the golden age of television, brand hyperbole was the rule. On smaller connected screens, I’m convinced that powerful brand messages are built on preconceived notions. We are more likely to believe in brand difference — at least enough to investigate — if the brand acknowledges what we think and expect.

This Samsung ad puts our preconceived beliefs about what’s possible from a mobile phone to good use. Samsung gives a nod to advertising hyperbole in a way that makes us believe that its new device might really be better than what we are carrying in our pockets already. It provides a reason to consider switching. And with millions of voluntary web views, it looks like Samsung did a lot right.