April 12, 2017
Want to Go Viral? Trying to Be Nice
Opinion: Nice, inclusive messages that don’t alienate either side of the political aisle are finding favor

A bunch of kids are playing basketball. The ball bounces in front of a nearby house, and the boy fetching the ball looks up to see another boy his age. This boy is in a wheelchair. “Hey,” says the boy. “Hey,” answers the kid in the wheelchair with a nod.

What happens next is surprising, even if though the music has primed you for a very special event: The final shot shows the kids playing basketball, but they’re sitting on wagons, office chairs and other wheeled devices to level the playing field. “Come on,” one of the boys beckons. The boy in the wheelchair beams. “When the best of us step up, our nation stands a little taller,” a voiceover states.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen this ad, from Canadian Tire, in your Facebook feed. At this writing, the video has received more than 16 million views on Facebook. The bulk of those came recently, but the brand released the video last summer as a tie-in with the Olympic Games. Since then, it’s gotten a second wind.

Why? Because Facebook has become a bitter place, filled with partisan vitriol. In such an environment, nice, inclusive messages that don’t alienate either side of the political aisle are finding favor. Brands that want their videos to get traction should take note.

Behind the changing tone of viral videos

This wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, videos like Devil Baby Attack (which showed a puppet zombie baby popping out of a carriage) and Heineken’s Job Interview (which featured interviewees enduring one socially awkward situation after another) were the rage. Such videos weren’t mean-spirited per se, but they reveled in watching victims and viewers squirm.

Some things have changed since then. A very divisive election has turned Facebook’s News Feed—a former haven for baby photos and wedding announcement—into a minefield. While we used to visit Facebook for uplift, now we see endless partisan bickering.

Yet Facebook is where a lot of us spend our time these days. The partisan ranting has gotten so bad that there’s a Chrome plug-in called Remove All Politics From Facebook.

In such an environment, a video like Canadian Tire’s is a pleasant change of pace. That’s not the only such hit recently. In late December, a light and funny video for the Furkids pet adoption center in Atlanta that used huckster tactics and language to beckon viewers to adopt a pet became a surprise hit for similar reasons.

More recently, Miranda, a PepsiCo brand in India, touched a nerve with an ad featuring teens reading letters they’d like to send to their parents who put too much pressure on them.

Nice videos finish first

One thing these ads have in common is that they don’t make “statements” about the current political environment in the U.S. This year, a few Super Bowl advertisers sought to do that and found that they wound up antagonizing roughly half of the population. (A Saturday Night Live skit mercilessly skewered advertisers for this.)

While those Super Bowl ads flopped, “nice” viral videos have become hits. That’s because no matter what our political leanings, we all like kittens and puppies and agree that we ought to treat people with disabilities with respect and that teens should get a chance to have fun.

In the war zone that is our News Feed, such messages also give us a chance to say, “I’m about more than politics.” Smart advertisers should seize this moment and say something positive that can’t be construed as an attack on one side or the other—at least until baby pics start dominating the News Feed again.

Peter Dakich is vice president of business development at video advertising platform GlassView.

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