Without a doubt, success in branded video these days takes investment in both production and distribution. Although the campaigns that top the viral video lists week in and week out usually have a hefty paid placement budget behind them, none would rack up quite the views that they do without solid, shareable concepts and executions behind them.
Here's a look at some of the best video campaigns launched in the first half of 2016 -- and why they've resonated so strongly with people. Which would you add to the list?
I'm the first to admit that I've grown tired of the video campaigns based on eliciting on-brand epiphanies among particularly photogenic people. (Think Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches" and the hundreds of copycats that have followed.) Yet despite my jadedness, I was still struck by travel site Momondo's "The DNA Journey." After asking people (yes, photogenic people) from around the world to speak candidly about races and nationalities with which they have trouble identifying, Momondo presents them with the surprising results of their own DNA analyses, which reveal the subjects to have more diverse backgrounds than they imagined. The message -- "You have more in common with the world than you think" -- is a powerful one, particularly in times where it's hard to tune into international news without spiraling into a pit of despair.
Initially, the brand tie-in seems to be missing, though Momondo does manage to tie it back at the end, asking the campaign subjects whether they'd like to travel to all of the places where their DNA indicates they have ancestors.
On the less feel-good but equally powerful front, UNICEF's campaign against child marriages manifested in a jarring execution that caught people's attention this spring. The video begins with the stereotypical "preparing for a wedding" footage and then presents an upsetting twist at the end, when the bride is revealed to be no more than a young girl.
On a less upsetting note, Walmart smartly tugged at viewers' heartstrings with its profile of a middle school teacher empowering her students to step up in the fight against hunger. Sometimes Walmart needs to remind the world that "the people of Walmart" are more than unflattering daisy duke wearers and offensive tattoo recipients. This campaign helps do that.
The car commercial mold is so rigid and assumed that it's easy to get attention when you break it. Honda did so beautifully with "Paper" last year. This year, Volkswagen also decided to turn off the close-ups on chrome grills for a second to release its seven-part animated Passat campaign, in which each installment of cutely cartooned content emphasizes a new, slick feature of the car. More of this, please.
Speaking of auto advertising, thumbs up to Audi as well. Brand video tie-ins with upcoming blockbuster movies are often so forced that it can be painful to watch. So kudos to Audi, which managed a pretty well-done mash-up of footage that transformed a big-budget chase scene from "Captain America: Civil War" into a humorous car commercial. No easy feat.
Samsung pretty much owns digital video advertising. No matter how mundane, every new product release sends an accompanying video to the top of the viral video charts. A lot of the creative is undeserving. However, the brand definitely gets a shout-out for its epic execution of the "unboxing" of tech products through the years.
That said, maybe my favorite from the brand this year has been its lesser-heralded home appliance campaign, "We All Want." The spots connect with family appeal rather than the cool factor. Consider this example, which cleverly highlights a simple yet brilliant feature of the Samsung AddWash washing machine.
Is it cheating for YouTube to be on this list? Probably. Is it further cheating when Snoop Dogg is in the campaign? For sure. But YouTube gets a shout-out for this April Fools' Day campaign all the same, which added 360 degrees of Snoop to popular YouTube videos. The actual executions included understated gems like this (mouse around on the video to experience the "360 degree" element):
Mobile phone companies have been so terrible to one another this year. The stress of the competition has bled into their video advertising strategies, and the result it like a couple fighting nastily in public. You are embarrassed for them. It's tacky. They should know better. But you just. Can't. Stop. Watching.
Most recently, Sprint hired Verizon's old "Can you hear me now?" guy (actor Paul Marcarelli) for the campaign "Paul Switched." This one is on the list sheerly for the "buuuurn" factor:
Yeah. We hear you, Paul. Commercial royalties don't last forever after your campaign is nixed. A guy's gotta pay the bills.
Speaking of cell companies getting nasty, the back and forth of Verizon and T-Mobile has been equally painful to watch. We truly don't even know what random statistic the two are squabbling over at this point, but Steve Harvey makes it pretty clear in the below spot that the video rebuttals have gotten out of hand.
I wouldn't dream of including spots like this on a "best of" wrap-up if the viewership levels weren't so insane. Juvenile? Yes. Effective? Seems to be.
Let's end on a more satisfying note, shall we? Apple, like many on this list, is no stranger to top spots on viral video watch lists. Many of the videos that top those charts are slick product reveals or demos with hefty distribution budgets behind them. But it's the ones like the below Mother's Day spot that capture people's hearts rather than their eyeballs. I've always been a fan of Apple's "Shot on iPhone" push. This execution was particularly moving.