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How a non-profit beat Budweiser at branded video

How a non-profit beat Budweiser at branded video Mallory Russell

Last year, March produced the most-viewed campaign of 2014, Wren's "First Kiss." Maybe there's something about the month because this year, the most-viewed campaign of 2015 to date was also released in March.

Ad Council takes the top spot on the March iMedia Brands in Video chart, where it garnered 92.5 million views with "Love Has No Labels." That's more views than any other campaign in 2015 to date. Its performance made the Ad Council one of four new brands on the chart this month, and it beat out some of the most prolific brands in online video, including Samsung, Google, and Microsoft.

"Love Has No Labels," created by R/GA, is a PSA that encourages us all to overcome our biases and embrace diversity through love. The organization has a long history of producing powerful PSAs -- from its earliest work during WWII ("Loose Lips Sink Ships") and its creation of characters Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog, to its "Keep America Beautiful" campaign -- that effectively capture the public's attention for major social issues. But this is its most viral branded video campaign to date.

The three-minute video starts with a crowd gathered in front of a large black screen. Two x-ray-like skeletons embrace and kiss on the screen. Then the two skeletons walk to the sides of the screen, and it is revealed that they are two women. They embrace again as the audience cheers and the screen reads, "Love has no gender." "Same Love" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, featuring Mary Lambert, starts to play over the video as more skeletons and messages of inclusion appear: Love has no religion, race, or age.

Released on March 3, the campaign had generated more views inside of two weeks than Budweiser's "Lost Dog" (63.5 million views), which was the most watched campaign of the Super Bowl.

Not only is "Love Has No Labels" the most-watched campaign of the year so far, but it has also is already the No. 21 most-viewed branded video ad of all time. It has already surpassed a number of groundbreaking campaigns, including Old Spice's innovative 2010 "Responses" (89.3 million views) and VW's 2011 Super Bowl campaign, "The Force" (85.8 million views).

The month "Love Has No Labels" was released doesn't really have anything to do with its success. Like Wren's "First Kiss," the campaign would have been successful no matter the time of year it was released. Neither campaign was capitalizing on a specific event or season. The content of each campaign is the sole driver of the generous viewership.

Consumers today want emotional stories. They are crazy for an emotional story with an uplifting message. Consumers also want to share this kind of heartwarming content with their social networks. If brands can package those stories in a surprising way, as the Ad Council did, there is extra incentive to share. "Puppy Love" and "Lost Dog" are examples of how Budweiser has adapted its legacy of buddy advertising to capitalize on these truths.

Does it help that Budweiser's campaigns aired during the Super Bowl? Yes. But over the last year, campaigns like Always' "#LikeAGirl" and Wren's "First Kiss" have proved that moving creative can generate buzz equal or exceed that of a major event. The added benefit of not using an event like the Super Bowl to create conversation around a campaign is that a brand doesn't have to share the spotlight.

"Love Has No Labels" benefitted not only from inspiring creative, but also from a creative distribution strategy. The organization released the campaign on its own YouTube and Facebook pages, but it also partnered with the Upworthy. Upworthy posted the PSA and its behind-the-scenes content on its Facebook page, which has more than 7 million "likes," and that content accounted for 46 percent of total viewership.

This approach validates the idea that brands need to target influencers in order to achieve maximum impact with their content. In the case of "Love Has No Labels," the influencer was Upworthy. Its clout with the online community as the internet's favorite purveyor of emotional and uplifting content not only validated the Ad Council's content, but also put it in front of an audience that might not have seen it otherwise.

The strategy is an important one for all brands, but for non-profits in particular. Non-profits seldom have the budgets to compete with for-profit brands when it comes to video production or distribution, but they have a distinct advantage in that non-profit missions are often full of real and emotional human-interest stories. If non-profits can capitalize on partners and influencers to help tell their stories, like the Ad Council did, more will have the opportunity to be heard.

Mallory Russell is content editor at Visible Measures.

iMedia's Top 10 Brands in Video chart, powered by Visible Measures, focuses on aggregated brand view counts across related social video ad campaigns. Each brand and campaign is measured on a True Reach basis, which includes viewership of both brand-syndicated and audience-driven video clips. The data are compiled using the patented Visible Measures platform, a constantly growing repository of analytic data on close to 400 million videos tracked across more than 300 online video destinations.

Note: This analysis does not include Visible Measures' paid-placement (e.g., overlays; pre-, mid-, and post-roll) performance data or video views on private sites. This chart does not include movie trailers, video game campaigns, TV show, or media network promotions. View counts are incremental by month.

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Mallory Russell is the Director of Content for Visible Measures. Prior to joining Visible Measures, Mallory wrote for Advertising Age and Business Insider. She also spent a few years in the San Francisco ad business at DraftFCB and Goodby,...

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