Video marketing can take on different forms: from 360 degree viewing to quick shopping; online marketers have a full arsenal on their hands using only one content type. There’s one that stands out in terms of public reaction though – and that is social experiments. Who are the key players in this approach and why is it making headlines?
A social experiment is basically a research campaign performed with humans as subjects in a real life scenario. The goal is to find out what happens if something foreign or random is introduced in their natural environment. For years since the first tests in the late 1960s, researchers have been using social experiments to find out the reasons behind various human concepts such as: conformity, thought suppression, self-deception, and the Halo Effect, just to name a few.
One famous experiment aptly called the ‘Good Samaritan’ was conducted in 1978 by Darley and Batson to study factors affecting people’s altruistic tendencies. Based on the popular parable of the same name, they wanted to see if religious belief had anything to do with a person’s quick response to someone in need.
Just last month, a rather similar social experiment was performed by UK entertainment website, The LAD Bible. Entitled the ‘Free Money Experiment’, a sign with five £5 notes were placed prominently in the busy city of Manchester. The video became viral when it was uploaded on May 8, 2015, gaining more than 100,000 views in just a couple of days. It was their second attempt at social experiments. The first one was a similar video, albeit done with coins, instead of notes.
Today’s social experiments are not as rigid as in previous years. Especially with the emergence of social media, one can easily share and get public opinion just minutes after a video goes online. Such is the case with Joseph Saladino’s, (a.k.a. on YouTube and Vine) child abduction experiment that received both positive and negative reviews. Since it was uploaded on May 2nd, it has gained a whopping 8 million views to date.
Unlike traditional tests, modern social experiments do not necessarily intend to answer psychology’s most pressing questions. Instead, they aim to:
As long as you have an idea or issue that a lot of people would care about, you can basically begin filming your mini social experiment. Huge brands have taken notice of this particular YouTube fad and decided to use it to their advantage.
One popular name that’s getting plenty of attention from both media and YouTube binge watchers is Dove. The beauty and skincare brand’s general mission according to their website is to: help women (it’s main target market) see the natural beauty within themselves. Thus, the ‘Choose Beautiful’ campaign was born. In April 7, they uploaded a social experiment that took place in certain cities all over the world (such as London, Paris, Shanghai, and San Francisco).
The response was mainly positive, with the video receiving more than 6.5 million views and more than 1,700 comments. This isn’t a first for the popular Unilever subsidiary. In 2013, they launched a successful viral video hit called ‘Dove Sketches’. The video struck a chord with audiences everywhere – with the video garnering more than 65 million views.
Another main player in the YouTube social experiments field is appliance maker Whirlpool. Their on-going social media campaign ‘Every Day, Care’ was said to have contributed greatly to the brand’s revenue. According to Senior Brand Manager Jon Hall, Whirlpool’s sales increased by 6.6 percent since the project started in October of 2014. The videos feature touching, simple scenes from families who do chores for the people they love.
(Updated November 2018)
When you think about social experiments, consider the concept of group polarization, according to psychologist Rob Henderson. A group of like-minded people reinforces one another’s viewpoints. It strengthens the opinions of each person in the group.
Furthermore, according to French psychologists Serge Moscovici and Marisa Zavalloni: “Group consensus seems to induce a change of attitudes in which subjects are likely to adopt more extreme positions.”
Many of us also enjoy being with others who share the same beliefs. It’s the mentality that ‘if other people do it, that means it’s right. Right?’
This very mentality is what helps shape public opinion as well as the explanation behind many social experiment results.
Keep that in mind when you finally consider conducting your own social experiments one day.
Tempted to create your own social experiment? Don’t jump into the bandwagon just yet. Not all YouTube social experiments end happily – especially those without proper social research. A huge disadvantage with this video marketing strategy is that public response can immediately turn sour. Although most social experiments mean well (i.e. promoting self-confidence), similarly- themed videos could be labeled among the bad seeds that lurk in YouTube.
Such is the case of prankster Sam Pepper when he uploaded a video he later claimed was a ‘social experiment’. YouTube eventually took it down after it was proven to be a violation of the platform’s policies on nudity and sexual content. Before it was removed though, it was still able to garner 1.3 million views from both haters and fans.
So how do you avoid this kind of controversy? Do what Whirlpool did and know your product or service like the palm of your hand. What makes it unique from other brands? What is its best trait that your consumers love? The best way to answer these questions is to ask users themselves. Set up an online survey form, or if you prefer it the old-fashioned way, you can always send them a questionnaire by mail.
Next, you may want to partner up with the best video production agencies in the market today. It may cost you at first (Whirlpool’s estimated expenses on their video campaign was about $ 30 million), but think of it as an investment into one of the biggest content trends now and in the future. Basically, concepts with an emotional appeal work best because it connects to people on a deep level.
Third, find real people – not actors. Bonus points if they are your consumers (because hey, who doesn’t want to be featured on YouTube?). Previous top YouTube ads have proven that hiring celebrities may only seem lucrative at first, but audiences have a tendency to forget the brand and the video’s message and just focus on the star as days pass. Depending on the kind of social experiment you are going for, your subjects may or may not know they are part of a test.
Last, be aware of time constraints. While most people do spend plenty of hours watching videos, lengthy productions are not only expensive, they can be boring. Work between 2 to 5 minutes, which is the ideal span for most videos on YouTube.
So, what do you think? Is your brand game for a social experiment video? It’s not easy making content go viral, but with the right team on your side – plus a great idea – your video may just be crazy enough to work.