Turning Ads Into Viral Mega-Hits

Visitors to Unruly Media’s headquarters are greeted by statements spelled out in cursive neon that speak volumes about the London-based start-up’s focus.

The quotes — “nyan, nyan, nyan,” “Go tell that, homeboy,” and “Boom goes the dynamite,” from Nyan Cat, Antoine Dodson and internet sportscaster Brian Collins, may have yet to enter the canon, but search for their names and you will see that each became an overnight sensation after millions shared videos of them online, helping to generate hundreds of millions more views.

Unruly Media tracks video on the social web and how the esoteric can suddenly go stratospheric. Companies in all sectors are searching for better ways to measure the impact of their tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos and other bids to engage the public. Unruly shares with brands what it has learned from watching, tracking and analyzing thousands of videos to help improve their online video content and spread it across the Internet. With the entire Internet essentially powered by advertisements, the opportunity to provide more accurate, higher-value, smarter ads is huge.

“We’re growing rapidly because we’re sitting at the intersection of the biggest, fastest-growing trends in all of advertising: mobile, video, social,” says COO Sarah Wood. At her side in the “Nyan” meeting room sits CEO Scott Button, a scheduled speaker at the 2013 Noah conference in London, which takes place November 13th and 14th.

Wood points to a recent Adobe study in which 76% of marketers said their work has changed more in two years than in the past 50. “The rate of change is enormous,” she says. “For brands, the challenge is to know which new technologies, which new devices, which new platforms to be responding to.”

While Unruly may seem perfectly placed now, it wasn’t that way in the beginning, the co-founders say. “We didn’t really know what the idea was going to be,” Wood recalls. “We just knew the social web was taking off. There was a massive opportunity to be part of that. Then the idea followed.”

“Or several ideas,” Button says, jumping in. “The first idea’s often wrong. We launched a social media analytics product in 2006 and it was just way too early. We’d get a few paying customers but not enough to generate a business.”

Unruly Media used its analytics data engine to tabulate the most-shared videos on their website. “The consumer-facing website was interesting enough, and had enough traction in terms of audience, that UK marketers would come to us and say, ‘Can you put on my commercial campaign while we’re here and give that some promotion?’”

But the chart’s audience alone wasn’t a strong enough proposition for marketers so Unruly aggregated a network of sites to help distribute content. “We started out with tens of sites and now we’ve got about 25,000 media partners,” Button says, adding that the global audience is now a billion.

Alongside the distribution, marketers became interested anew in analytics. “We have predictive technology so we come in at all points in the life cycle,” Wood says. “Our product, ShareRank, algorithmically predicts the success of a video before it’s launched. When brands would come to us and say, ‘What do you think? What should we do? What’s our strategy?’ It felt very anecdotal and is very hard to be tethered to any facts. So what we wanted to do was bring in data-driven creativity and data-driven consultancy.”

ShareRank scores videos on more than 100 variables, testing emotional response, social motivation and special attributes. Based on the answers, it helps brands fine-tune content, or choose from several creative options.

With data from thousands of campaigns, Unruly distributes content to the corners of the web where it is most likely to be shared.

“This is really important because success happens much faster than it ever has,” Wood says. “You fail or succeed within hours. It’s really important for brands to be launching a campaign simultaneously with a big seed approach, gathering as many shares as possible in that first day because day two tends to be the sharing peak.”

Unruly has grown to 135 employees with 10 offices around the world, generating £17.6 million in revenue last year. Demand is pulling the company to expand into Latin America and Asia-Pacific markets, Button says.

Mobile is a definite focus for the future, Wood says. “But in terms of talking about a product, it would be crazy for us to talk about a two-year-plan because everything will have changed again in two years.”

Top 10 Most Shared Ads of 2013


Ranking Company Name of Campaign Agency Shares (millions) Image
1 Dove Real Beauty Sketches Ogilvy & Mather 4.21  
2 GEICO Hump Day The Martin Agency 3.95  
3 Evian Baby & Me BETC 3.28  
4 Kmart Ship My Pants draftfcb 3.04  
5 Cornetto Yalın – Keyfi Yolunda, Aşkı Sonunda Mofilm and Ridley Scott Associates 2.89  
6 Budweiser Brotherhood Anomaly 2.72  
7 Pepsi Max Test Drive TBWA\Chiat\Day 2.68  
8 MGM for film remake of “Carrie” Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise Thinkmodo 2.08  
9 Ram Trucks (Chrysler) Farmer The Richards Group 1.87  
10 TrueMove (Thai telecoms company) Giving Unknown/in-house 1.24  


Source: Unruly Media




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