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Emotional engagement drives viral video success, research reveals

A study into viral videos has found that emotional engagement and effective distribution are equally important when it comes to achieving viral video success.

The study, by online video technology company Ebuzzing and Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin off group, Affectiva, examined the top 40 UK and US YouTube videos of 2013 and ranked them by emotional response using Affectiva’s Affdex Engagement Score.

The tool, which considers the range of facial emotions elicited by a video, their intensity, duration and variability, also takes into account visual cues such as smiles, disgust, concentration and surprise.

It found that viral successes such as Evian’s Baby and Me, DevilsDueNYC’s Devil Baby Attack and Pepsi Max and Jeff Gordon generated very high emotional engagement with viewers, showing an average Affdex Engagement score of 92.

However, the study also confirms that content alone is not enough to ensure virality - a comprehensive distribution strategy is of equal importance for brands seeking a viral hit.

An example is the Doritos Superbowl advert which had high Affdex scores, up to 87.3, and strong potential for virality. However the ads were not promoted beyond the Doritos’ contest website, and only received 3.1million views.

Rebecca Mahony, CMO at Ebuzzing, said: “All brands recognize the power of a viral video, but these days achieving a hit is not just an art, it’s a science. Ebuzzing’s Affdex Study shows that emotional reactions are critical to viral hits, but a strong distribution strategy is just as important. People love sharing jaw-dropping videos but all content is nothing without delivery.”