Members of the public were the undoubted stars of the Unruly Viral Video Chart last month.
From mock murders to the most testing of test drives, a quarter of the top 20 most shared ads during March were experiential campaigns.
Of course, these types of ads are nothing new. However, in 2013, there seems a growing willingness by advertisers to put supposedly unsuspecting consumers at the heart of their social video campaigns through playful pranks, horrible hoaxes or flashy flash mobs. But why are they suddenly becoming so popular among brands?
Well, firstly, unlike 2012, there’s not much in the calendar. Last year advertisers had their pick of awe-inspiring, headline-grabbing events to build social video campaigns around. But this year there’s no Olympics to inspire us, no election to bore us or even a Mayan apocalypse to not worry about.
So with 2013’s diary looking as empty as Pope Benedict XVI’s right now, it’s hardly surprising that advertisers have decided to take matters into their own hands by creating their own events.
Secondly - no doubt prompted by the phenomenal success of experiential campaigns created by such agencies as Duval Guillaume Modem - brands are learning.
Research into internet sharing has found that the secret of social video success is eliciting the strongest possible emotions from your audience. Capturing people's reactions to a stunt is a very clever way of doing this. After all, what better way to make people emote than to make them question how they would respond in the same situation?
Certainly, you only need to look at March’s top 20 to see that this approach is working.
Leading the way last month by a distance was Pepsi’s prank ad ‘Test Drive’. The premise of the commercial is simple: disguise NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon as a geek and then send him out to a car dealership to look at one of the flashiest sports cars her can find. Then take a supposedly unwitting car salesman on the test drive of his life. Cue lots of hilarious contorted expressions of fear, swearing and calls to get the police involved.
The follow-up to Pepsi's Uncle Drew - in which NBA star Kyrie Irving, disguised as an old man, blows away some 'much younger' basketball players at a local court - 'Test Drive' racked up 2.4 million shares last month, already making it the 10th most shared ad of all time.
Even the controversy which has surrounded the campaign questioning whether Gordon was actually driving and whether the salesman was just a jobbing actor has only fuelled its success further.
In sixth place with 360,432 shares last month is another experiential campaign, this time from Carlsberg. Created by Belgian agency Duval Guillaume Modem - the front-runners in this new Wild West of extreme experiential advertising – ‘Friendship Test’ asked just how far people would go to help a mate in trouble.
The unsuspecting participants are firstly woken up at 3am by a desperate phone call from their best friend pleading with them to bring 300 euros to a late night poker night. To make matters worse, when they begrudgingly arrive with the cash to bail out their stricken pal, the venue is like something out of a bad movie. You know the type: illegal fighting downstairs, petrified chickens flapping around on the floor, lots of scary people shouting at you and gruff bodyguards pushing you around.
Some, quite understandably, hesitate, but those brave enough to run the gauntlet and pay up are given a special treat: a nice bottle of Carlsberg and a whole room of your mates celebrating your courage.
But if you think that is an extreme situation, to help promote new movie Dead Man Down, agency Thinkmodo came up with a stunt that makes ‘Friendship Test’ look like a relaxing stroll in the park by comparison.
‘Elevator Murder Experiment’ features the reactions of members of the public when they open the doors of a New York elevator only to find one man trying to choke the life out of another.
Of course, it's not real; it's just two actors staging a life-or-death tussle to see how people will respond. All the action is captured on hidden cameras inside and outside the elevator. A lot of them scream and flee, one grabs a fire extinguisher and one man even tries to film the whole thing on his phone. The ad generated 107,426 shares last month, putting it in 12th position.
Other experimental campaigns to feature in March’s top 20 are Heineken’s job interview from Hell, The Candidate, and a classic flash mob from Spanish bank Som Sabadell.
But they were not the only branded videos to cause ripples across the social web last month.
Back in February the web was flooded with clips of colleges and organisations doing their own renditions of the hugely popular Harlem Shake meme. And the seemingly endless number of volunteers willing to don silly costumes and dance around like loons showed no signs of slowing down in March.
Also dancing for joy during March was mobile network Three. Its ad, #DancePonyDance, set to Fleetwood Mac’s classic hit Everywhere and featuring a prancing Shetland pony, moonwalked its way to 957,018 shares last month, making it the fourth most shared commercial last month.
Other new ads to feature in the top 20 include an extremely violent music video for Russian vodka brand Neft, a new trailer for the upcoming Battlefield 4 videogame, and a splashing paintball duel, courtesy of Audi.
Top 20 most shared ads of March 2013
- Pepsi – Test Drive - Shares: 2.40 million
- Miami Heat – Harlem Shake - Shares: 1.55m
- Neft vodka: Biting Elbows - Shares: 1 million shares
- Three: #DancePonyDance - Shares: 957,018
- Fox – The Simpsons: Homer Shake - Shares: 669,689
- Carlsberg: Friendship Test - Shares: 360,482
- Chanel: The Jacket - Shares: 294,197
- Samsung: Introducing Galaxy S4 - Shares: 264,057
- Code.org: What most schools don’t teach - Shares: 243,095
- Dove: Men’s Shampoo - Shares: 242,046
- Audi: Paintball Duel - Shares: 121,005
- Dead Man Down: Elevator Murder Experiment - Shares: 107,426
- Oreo: Separator Machine – David Neevel - Shares: 94,097
- Melbourne Metro: Dumb Ways To Die - Shares: 92,023
- McDonald’s: Cuenta Conmigo - Shares: 91,950
- EA: Battlefield 4 60-Second Trailer - Shares: 90,016
- Microsoft Studios: Age Of Empires II Announcement Trailer - Shares: 87,099
- GEICO: Dikembe Mutombo Commercial - Shares: 76,150
- Heineken: The Candidate - Shares: 74,457
- Banco Sabadell: Som Sabadell Flashmob - Shares: 68,844