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This post is based on a paper titled The Emotions That Drive Viral Video (Nelson-Field, Riebe, & Newstead, 2013).

To the degree that if you followed the recipe, you could guarantee video virality, there is still a lack of definitive understanding of the characteristics of successful viral videos.

However, some generalisations are possible. Even though the following generalisations are or seem to be obvious, especially with hindsight, it is possible that some combination of ignorance, difficulty, and expense in making sharable videos is behind the 75% of videos that don’t elicit strong arousal responses.

Perhaps this pithy (and incomplete) observation suggests at the thrust of the findings:

  • Enragement drives engagement.


What the researchers found:

  • Marketers should focus less on creative appeal and more on emotional appeal (high arousal).
  • High arousal videos will be shared more than low arousal videos.
  • Although videos that elicit positive arousal (such as hilarity and inspiration) are shared more than videos that elicit negative arousal (such as sadness and disgust), what is more important is that the arousal is strongly felt.
  • Videos eliciting negative arousal may be risky for a brand.
  • Videos violating norms, such as with offensive and or objectionable behaviour (such as sex, nudity, and violence), rank well against measures of attention, recall, and recognition. However, such provocative negative videos are possibly risky for a brand.


Nelson-Field, K., Riebe, E., & Newstead, K. (2013). The emotions that drive viral video. Australian Marketing Journal, 21, 205-211.