Why do consumers love social experiment video ads?

In the last 2 years, there has been a surge of the number of video ads featuring real people: they don’t mention any brand or its merits, they are just put in a real life situation, or asked their opinion on something.

These experiments work because they tap into the collective subconscious through stories. Deeper than emotions, collective subconscious is the best way to rally crowds, generate buzz and be relatable. Remember when I told you about archetypes in a post earlier? It’s the same functioning here.

“By relating to strong, deep felt collective emotions, brands position themselves in a memorable way and embed themselves in a narrative”.

I have selected and comment on a few of them, trying to debunk this advertising phenomenon from a branding standpoint and finish with top tips for managers. (Disclaimer: this post is a bit longer than my usual ones: I got very excited about the ads).

Always #LikeAGirl campaign (2014)

This hugely popular ad created by Leo Burnett for Procter and Gamble depicts women, girls and boys asked to do something “like a girl” – throw a ball, run, fight. The experiment shows that girls before puberty enact being a girl with powerful and determined movements, whereas women past puberty use exaggerated limp and goofy moves.

I believe this study rings a bell in the collective unconscious by showing that something indeed happens around puberty where girls’ self worth and value is undermined. It then further echoes on the brand, which becomes an ambassador of women’s empowerment and self-confidence.

WREN’s First KISS (2014)

This ad is particularly interesting because the brand behind it was initially not mentioned, and everyone thought it was just a nice video about love. In the experiment, strangers are paired-up and asked to kiss. On the mouth and all. The tension is palpable, excitement is mixed with shyness, reserve and tenderness depending on the individuals.

Unfortunately, despite the great creative effort and massive buzz the ad created, the brand message was not clear: people failed to understand that the video was sponsored, and that the people were wearing the Fall clothing line by WREN. In fact, most were disappointed when they found out that the video was commercial. The controversy has in the end done more harm than good to the brand, which remains very obscure to date, even on social media.

Coca-Cola “Remove Labels” (2015)

In this video, which was launched in the Middle East during the last Ramadan period in July 2015, strangers are gathered in the dark for a break fast (iftar) and they converse, get to know each other. When the lights come up, it reveals a diverse group: A guy with facial tattoos, two men in Arab dress, a man in a wheelchair, and another man in smart business dress: everyone is shocked to discover the face behind the individuals.

The campaign aims to promote the values of equality and not to juge people according to their looks, or ‘label’. It was combined with a release of cans of coke without label, in a humanist attempt to promote equality. The campaign has attracted quite a lot of criticism, but admittedly fits the brand’s strategy to be a global brand, without borders and prejudice. Ain’t easy being liked by everyone.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches (2014)

In this ad, which is really more a short story, Dove invites a few women to come and describe themselves and another woman to a sketch artist. The artist then draws them based only on their description, without seeing them. Looking at the sketches, the experiment shows that people describe themselves very critically and in fact view themselves in a rather negative light, whereas they describe others much more accurately. The ad has been viewed 5,740,248 times since April 2013 and was Ad Age’s viral campaign of the year 2013.

The campaign is part of the Real Beauty concept by Dove. Ogilvy Brazil contributed to the creative work and aimed to create an ad to make women feel better about themselves. Like the other campaigns above, I think that the strength of the ad is that it does not only tap into emotions, but into hidden, subconscious processes of self-evaluation that everyone undergoes and that plays a strong part in the process of brand identification. It is also very consistent with the ongoing efforts and values of the brand.

How to use these techniques for your brand?

The ads above show that there are at least three keys to successful videos experiments:

  • Plan carefully. All experiments start with hypotheses on how people are going to act and react. Careful planning and set-up is required (no big money needed: the WREN ad was created with $1,300). How much information is revealed to the participants is also crucial.
  • Involve genuine participants. When it comes to the experiment itself, work in an open and relaxed environment. Work with real people, not actors, for deep-felt and authentic emotions to be released, that will be shared by many. (Sure, the people in the ads might have been paid to perform or act in a certain way but to show they are real, there is usually a “making off” and genuine experimental design behind the ads that is clearly explained).
  • Make a clear brand connection. If you want your campaign to generate buzz around your brand, and not just about the video itself (like WREN), make it very clear that you are behind it and why you are doing it. Embed the video in your story, in your values.

Because these videos generate strong responses, they also often attracts spoofs (see the Dove spoof: “Men: You’re Less Beautiful Than You Think”). I think that being able to elicit strong critical responses is also part of the game and of the buzz, as long as you are ready for it.

What do you think about these video ads? Do you view them like traditional advertising? Would you use them to support a new product launch?



Be the first to comment on this article.

February 8, 2018 at 5:56 pm

I’m faced with a decision to make for this format vs traditional brand tv. Are you by any chance able to give an indication as to what your readers chose and why? Based on the last questions asked on this article.

February 8, 2018 at 6:19 pm
– In reply to: Khosi

Hi Khosi, thanks for your comment and question. I think the question is not so much what my readers like but what are your marketing objectives and what will help you achieve them based on YOUR audience…best of luck!

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