Must Love Cats: Why Videos Go Viral

kittens playing

It’s Internet Week in New York, and media experts from all over have gathered in SoHo to listen, learn, and discuss all the newest trends and insights made in the world of media, marketing, and the webosphere as a whole.

We’ve been attending a variety of info sessions over the last few days. One of the most interesting was a session entitled “Why I Shared Your Fabulous Content: The Science Behind Social Video,” presented by Unruly Media, that explored the different cultural and emotional triggers that cause us to distribute certain videos, and not others, and how the results you want can be emulated to maximize sharing potential. They conducted an intriguing experiment during the session. Audience members were asked to watch three different types of branded video content and choose which video they would be most likely to share.

One video, which featured cats with opposable thumbs, was the unanimous winner. In fact, according to when the video was launched at the end of April 2012, it went viral with 5,638,900 views to date and 573,248 Facebook shares — a success by any stretch of the word. But the question explored during the panel was why? Why did the video featuring cats with opposable thumbs go viral?

There are a number of factors that contribute to our perception of images and the composition of video. One of the reasons the cat video went viral was the use of cats in and of itself. Everyone loves a good cat video, and regardless of the content of the other two videos, most people would respond most positively to the video containing cute animals. But more than that, this video contained a storyline—cats with opposable thumbs playing card games, drinking in bars and dancing. In other words, they were engaging in activities almost all of us can relate to and are familiar with, but the story had a slight twist in that these were cats — not people – doing all of this normal human stuff.

The discovery was made that videos with higher sharing rates are the ones which provoke a physiological response; whether it is laughter, tears, anger or disgust, high arousal responses are a big reason why people share certain videos and not others. Videos with positive high arousal responses have higher share rates than videos with negative high arousal responses, however the bottom line is that stirring up an emotion in the viewer makes for more shareable content. Viewers that are engaged on an emotional and cultural level — rather than, say, in the product benefits and attributes realm — want to share that video with others. What does sharing do? It makes for higher enjoyment because people are sharing with friends, colleagues, family members, and sharing encourages brand association as well as higher recall. The key take away here is that videos are more likely to go viral if they possess those emotional triggers that make us human.

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