​New research suggests that surprise and joy attract viewers' eyes, while personal gain leads to true video virality.

​With video marketing a growing practice among forward-thinking brands, a lot of time and energy have gone into discovering the formula​ ​for viral content. While there’s no clear-cut step-by-step guide to producing media that appeals to the masses, research from Harvard Business School’s Assistant Professional Thales S. Teixeira attempts to tackle the concept through various lab experiments.

Teixeira notes that there are four steps to creating viral video content: attracting viewers’ attention, retaining it, getting them to share ads with others and persuading viewers to convert. Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done. But brands may want to take a step back from data-driven concepts and stick to entertaining visual media to drive website conversions.

“People no longer want a lot of information about the products or brands in the advertisements they watch,” Teixeira said. “In the past, when a company launched a new product, the advertisements would include all the information about the product…but now we have all the information about all the new products available to us online. Now, we want ads to entertain us.”

“Now, we want ads to entertain us,” Teixeira said.

Researchers measured emotional responses to a selection of ads by using eye-tracking technology and facial expression analysis software. The findings open the door to what truly inspires people to share media with their personal networks and push videos toward virality.

Data shows content that evokes surprise attracts the most attention, and continuous moments of joy will retain that attention. Teixeira and his team also found that the main motivation for sharing video content is egocentricity. People like to share content that makes them look good – that gives them some form of personal gain. The persuasion aspect of viral video content lies in the clip’s ability to achieve the three previous aspects of virality, thus pushing prospects to share and buy.

Brafton previously reported on Unruly data that found the key to viral video marketing is comedy. However, humor translates differently across cultural boundaries, and Teixeria’s research shows virality requires a​ ​diverse array of emotional response. While different sources suggest varying methods to widening web content’s reach, one commonality can be derived from these studies: Video content is something the people want, and hitting the sweet spot can produce seriously high ROI.

Ted Karczewski is an Executive Communications Associate at Brafton. He works to develop his own voice and apply his passions to the evolving world of SEO and content marketing, but he doesn't shy away from writing for fun. After graduating from Suffolk University, Ted used his Communications degree to test out Sports Journalism before Marketing at Brafton.