There’s a time for everything and the time of eyes-welling-up-with-tears commercials is now. It actually started a few years ago, and they’re still going strong, touching soft spots in us all.

Whenever a new one of those beautiful emotional viral ads emerges from the depths of the internet, it’s quickly shared across the Earth in a matter of minutes thanks to social networks and highly connected online communities. So, what’s the deal with these highly emotional ads? As you probably already guessed, that’s what I’ll share with you today and by the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll never see them the same again.

If you’re one of the 2 people online who that hasn’t seen these ads, here’s a little journey through a few of them to get you up to speed:

In 2013, Dove released a video that was going to become the viral campaign of the year and generate billions of dollars in earned media. The idea of the video came from an ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather (Brazil), and was filmed in San Francisco. The result was edited into a 6-minute short film and a 3-minute online commercial.


In 2014, Always launched the #LikeAGirl campaign. The campaign video also became viral and even got a spot in the Super Bowl commercial break.


In 2015, Ad Council, an American non-profit organisation helping both government agencies and non-profits create and promote public service announcements launched the “Love Has No Labels” campaign with a video that quickly became viral.


In 2016, Momondo, the travel fare metasearch engine, launched a video under the #LetsOpenOurWorld call to action and hashtag. The campaign later turned into a competition for people who would like to win DNA testing kits and free trips to their places of origin.


More recently, Heineken also launched a video called “Worlds Apart” which also became a viral hit. Many people saw the new video as a response to Pepsi’s awful, tone–deaf Kendall Jenner ad from a month ago.


I’ll let you dry your tears first… Go ahead, take a moment. So… damn fine ads, right? What truly gets something in our eye is the fact that they’re all based on very powerful insights. They also feature real people, not supermodels or celebrities. Also, they’re all using an experiment as a way to show us a reality that’s quite different than what the people in the ads expected.

So, how do ad agencies come up with these ideas? Well, it’s actually quite simple…

The Emotional Viral Ads Recipes for Winning Ideas

What happens in ad agencies is very different to our world. The creative teams working in an agency usually work on more accounts (different brands). We usually work on our own business, our personal brand, and some side gigs, but we usually address the same core target and we usually know what we want to say when talking to those buying our products and services. In the ad world, things are not as simple. The creatives work with various brands, managed by different brand teams, who focus on different core targets.

Generating hundreds of ideas on command is part of the agency life. Getting ideas is not impossible, but getting them in a matter of hours is nearly impossible without a trick up your sleeve.

In the ’90, Systematic Inventive Thinking was… well… invented. The idea behind it was simple – ideas have common patterns. By focusing on the patterns, you can generate dozens, hundreds of ideas in just a couple of hours. This is the part that ad agencies don’t really want you to know, because it takes the magic out of advertising.

Since then, there were developed various systems to help creative teams come up with ideas, many of them based on identified patterns. Usually, the ad agency hires a company that teaches the creative teams what new patterns can be used for coming up with ideas. That company teaches the same patterns for a couple of years, going from one agency to another. Soon, all of the world’s big agencies are following the same patterns in generating ideas.

Now for the fun part, one of those patterns is an ideation tool called Self-Validation. It was identified by The Mindscapes, a creative training company. This ideation tool instructs creatives to design an experiment using real-life situations in order to prove a brand’s point.

That’s the ideation tool probably used for coming up with the ideas for these emotional ads we can’t stop sharing on Facebook, but that’s not the only tool available, and we can also use them to come up with ideas for our own campaigns.

A popular tool is called the Extreme Challenge. It means you try to create a challenge that’s related to your product and get people to either participate in it or follow it developing because it’s so crazy. Think of the “Best Job in the World” campaign or Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space for Red Bull.

If you watch enough ads, you’ll start seeing the patterns I’m talking about, and when that happens you’ll know what to use in your own brainstormings. Or… you can just use a shortcut. Shortcuts are fun, right? Just watch this video of a workshop on patterns used in advertising for generating ideas. You can thank me later.

Emotional Viral Ads

The Connection Between Millennials and Emotional Viral Ads

What the ads we’re discussing have in common is that they were created with the Millennials in mind. They’re America’s largest living generation, and even if they’re not everywhere on Earth the largest generation alive, they are representing a powerful cohort of consumers that brands are trying to attract and keep on their side.

Millennials are an interesting group of people – very different from their parents, actively looking for content to consume, and, most importantly, knowing just how they like their brands.

Appealing to Millennials is good for business, and given their interests and lifestyle, it’s not bad for society either. Exactly because there’s such a big interest in getting your communication just right for Millennials, there are many studies that point to a set of rules in creating a campaign or a brand that they’ll love.

One team studying what Millennials look in the brands they buy and what drives them is the one made up of Joeri van den Bergh and Mattias Behrer. Back in 2011, before these ads started to pop up on the internet, they wrote a book called “How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y”. In the book, they talk about the CRUSH branding model – the 5 success factors of a youth brand. To be appealing to Millennials, brands have to score high on the CRUSH scale, and you’ll see how the emotional ads we’re discussing do that beautifully. 

The CRUSH Branding Model

“CRUSH” comes from the 5 success factors Millennials use to rate brands:

  1. Cool
  2. Real
  3. Unique
  4. Self-brand identification
  5. Happiness

Don’t get scared by the complexity of this, most of these things apply to big brands like DIESEL, Mini Cooper, Apple or Converse. By taking a look at the things they work with, we can also get some ideas for our own ventures. Let’s dig in!

Is It Cool?

Being cool as a brand is not an easy feat. You need to pay attention to what your competitors are doing and make sure you’re not becoming too edgy. The easiest way to make sure your brand’s as cool as possible is to innovate, involve Millennials in your creative process, run exclusive offers and promotions on new hip channels (like Snapchat).

Is It Real?

You gotta keep it real! Millennials are all about authenticity. They don’t like brands who copy others or use fake stories to sell their products. They want to be listened and talked to with respect. They also want to see brands hold their ground when it’s important, but also be transparent and open.

Is It Unique?

Young consumers care about a brand’s mission, but they won’t care about it if it only exists on a website and it never manifests in real life. They’ll look at what a brand stands for (through its actions) and try to find something they have in common. You need to really be able to express what makes you stand out from your competition, why is your brand different. You need to own that everywhere and in everything – from the logo to packaging, website, social media posts, tags and stickers.

Is There Self-brand identification?

Millennials will select the brands that show day in day out how they’re connected to their passions. They’ll self-identify with the brands that help them stand out individually but also fit in with a group they aspire to be a part of (a tribe).

Does It Bring Happiness?

When they experience an emotion, Millennials are likely to share the experience with other people. Research showed that only 10% of emotional experiences are kept secret, the rest are going to be shared. The impact of the emotion is also influencing how soon and how often it’s going to be shared. When your brand is removing negative emotions (like Dove), you sure have a winner on your hands.

Millennials are happy to share things that make them feel like they’re improving something, strengthen ties between people, help them lose self-consciousness.

This is why those emotional ads strike a cord. The brand positioning has been carefully studied and set up to please Millennials, the message of the ads clearly established. You can’t watch the Dove ad and don’t get what Dove stands for, what the brand’s mission is. You can’t watch the Ad Council PSA and not experience a strong emotion. Heineken proves just how cool it is by jumping into a conversation that not even individuals are brave enough to have over dinner.

Now, let’s get back to you… I know you don’t have those big budgets these global companies have, but that doesn’t mean you can’t apply a few things to your online marketing or product development or personal brand.

Here’s what I want you to do the next time you’re creating a product or a campaign:

1) Use the ideation techniques I mentioned (and those in the workshop video) to come up with at least 10 ideas. Write down any idea you have, no matter how crazy.

2) Select the top 3 ideas that you like.

3) Analyse the top 3 ideas by answering the following questions and giving a point to those for which you answered yes:

  • Does your idea have the potential to generate a strong emotion?
  • Does your idea fit with your core target’s passions or interests?
  • Can you present your idea with transparency, with no misleading claims?
  • Is your idea different from what your competitors have done in the past?
  • Is your idea innovative?

4) Select the one idea that scored most points.

5) Write down a description of your idea.

6) Think of who could describe the idea in front of a camera and how.

7) Think how could you produce a short video to present your idea.

Big brands got nothing on you. With a lot of work and dedication, you can be a champion at emotional viral ads in your own niche. Take what you can use, discard the rest. Use the inspiration as fuel for your own efforts and work to make your products household names.

Something you might want to look out for, is a new software called Memester which is coming out in a couple of days.

You can click here to find out more about it!.

Have you seen any great examples of emotional advertising for viral traffic?  Share it in the comments below, I’d love to see some more!