How Thrillist Studied The Impact Of Its Biggest Branded Viral Hit

Thrillist-GrandpaWhen Thrillist’s branded video of a fake grandpa weightlifting on Muscle Beach tallied more than 50 million Facebook views in 48 hours, it seemed to validate the pub’s 2015 decision to expand its editorial and sponsored video operations.

But Thrillist CoLab, the branded content arm of Thrillist, wanted to test if the viral hit actually drove results for the sponsoring brand, MillerCoors’ Smith & Forge hard cider.

“Fifty million views in 48 hours is great, 90 million [to date] is insanely great,” said Paul Josephsen, VP of Thrillist CoLab. But: “Does viewership matter [for a branded video] if brand recall isn’t there?

CoLab surveyed people it believed saw the video (using contact info from its data management platform and Facebook audience manager), asking if they remembered, for example, who sponsored the video and the sponsor’s tagline.

Because Thrillist works with many alcohol clients, it was able to confirm that the results outperformed norms in the category for metrics like lifts in purchase intent and awareness, Josephsen said.

“This is a big step in qualifying branded video and exactly what The CoLab has always been focused on – content that meaningfully moves the needle for brands and is proven through research,” Jospehsen said.

Thrillist also tried to figure out why the Smith & Forge video resonated with Facebook viewers.

“A lot of prank videos make people feel bad or set them up in a position to fail,” said Bill McCandless, the SVP of video programming. “No one is embarrassed [in this video]. They encourage him.”

The video aligns with best practices for Facebook.

Thrillist tagged “Smith & Forge” in the Facebook video post. In April, Facebook went from not officially allowing publications to post branded videos to permitting them as long as publications tagged the brand.

Tagging the brand clearly did not affect reach, and Thrillist so far hasn’t see branded videos treated differently by Facebook’s algorithm.

Thrillist also customized the video to compensate for the fact that many users quickly scroll through videos and watch without sound. Though the video goes on for 3 1/2 minutes, the first 15 seconds work as a complete joke of its own: the grandpa lifting a huge weight and quipping, “Just warming up.”

The highly visual prank works even with the sound off, and Thrillist added subtitles to accommodate viewers watching without sound.

“When we look frame by frame, it’s to make decisions to get people from three seconds to 10 seconds to 30 seconds,” McCandless said. We are happy to get videos that retain the audience versus something that massively shares.”

Even with a massive hit under its belt, Thrillist isn’t promising virality – which is more exception than the norm. However, Thrillist usually pays to amplify branded posts on Facebook. “The danger in viral is trying to replicate,” McCandless said.

Instead, Thrillist emphasizes the alignment it can achieve with its audience. “One of the most impactful things we can do for a brand is naturally fit them into what we are doing,” Josephsen said.


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