Viral Marketing Works Best With Emotional Appeals

Ezgi Akpinar and Jonah Berger
Article Snapshot
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Valuable Virality
Key Takeaways

​What? Viral has become the holy grail of digital marketing.
So What? Some companies may be sacrificing advertising effectiveness with the goal of increasing shares.
Now What? Marketers should create emotional appeals that make the brand integral as this will boost shares and also bolster brand related outcome.

Article Snapshot: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing Research

[Full Article]

While some ads go “viral,” their value to the brand is limited if they do not improve brand evaluation and purchase. Ads with emotional appeals (i.e., those that use drama, mood, music and other emotion-eliciting strategies) are more likely to be shared than informative appeals. Emotional appeals that make the brand integral boost shares while also bolstering brand related outcome.


"Even though companies tend not to make the brand an integral part of emotional appeals, doing so does not decrease shares."

A combination of field data, real sharing and laboratory experiments demonstrate that emotional integral ads encourage people to share while also boosting brand related outcomes (by generating more positive inferences about persuasion attempts and increasing brand knowledge).


Research
Viral has become the holy grail of digital marketing. Rather than focusing on paid media, where a brand pays to advertise, more and more attention is being devoted to getting shares. In the quest to increase shares, though, some companies may be sacrificing advertising effectiveness. Are sharing and creating value for the brands at odds? Or might there be a way to create “valuable virality'? Even though companies tend not to make the brand an integral part of emotional appeals, doing so does not decrease shares. Emotional integral ads boost both shares and brand related outcomes. 

Methods
We conducted a mix of field and laboratory investigations. . We analyzed hundreds of ad, using data provided by Unruly, a media company that tracks the shares of online videos.We also conducted laboratory experiments with undergraduates in order to better test causality and explore underlying mechanisms behind valuable virality..

Findings
A combination of field data and laboratory experiments demonstrate how advertising types (emotional vs. emotional not integral vs. informative) shape valuable virality. Different ad types affect shares and brand related outcomes differently. While emotional ads increase sharing compared to informative ads, informative ads bolster brand evaluation and purchase likelihood compared to emotional not integral ads. Emotional integral ads generate valuable virality, boosting shares and brand related outcomes (by generating positive inferences about persuasion attempts and increasing brand knowledge).

Implications
We provide a useful reminder about how to design effective ads in the new viral context. Advertisers have graviated towards making the brands less integral part of the ads. Emotional appeals that maintain the brand as an integral part of the message may be the best way to go both viral and create value for the brands.  Based on these findings, consumers might be able to watch content that they are more likely to pass on, but also evaluate the persuasion attempts more positively and gain knowledge about brand.

Questions for the Classroom

  • Most companies focus on getting more shares for their ads. If so, what are the other outcomes that marketers should consider while going viral?

  • What leads ads to both (1) be shared and (2) generate value for the company that created it?

  • Should companies tend trade-off between creating emotional ads and making the brand an integral part of the ad content? How can they achieve both?

Article Citations
Ezgi Akpinar and Jonah Berger (2017) Valuable Virality. Journal of Marketing Research: April 2017, Vol. 54, No. 2, pp. 318-330.



Author Bio:

 
Ezgi Akpinar and Jonah Berger
Ezgi Akpinar is Assistant Professor of Marketing, MEF University (e-mail: ezgi.akpinar@mef.edu.tr) and Jonah Berger is Associate Professor of Marketing, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (e-mail: jberger@wharton.upenn.edu).
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