The Ads Worth Spreading That Really Did Spread

Each year for TED's Ads Worth Spreading program, a panel of judges honors ads that inspire and aspire to be more than just commercial messages. As part of YouTube's ongoing partnership with this initiative, we got an early look at the winners and passed them through our YouTube Leaderboard methodology to see where the pros' picks matched those of the people. Here we share the five ads that caught fire.

For those of us in marketing and advertising, our job is to think about how to capture lightning in a bottle—that special something that transforms a commercial message into content people talk about and, increasingly, share. We’re constantly asking ourselves: Where can we find new, deep human insights? Does the ad need to have soaring music or puppies, babies and kittens? What about the all-important product shot? Where can we find the influencers? What it comes down to is how we isolate the essential elements of what goes into the perfect ad in a world where perfect no longer just means memorable but also shareable.

TED’s annual Ads Worth Spreading honors innovation, ingenuity and intelligence in advertising. The ads that hit home for this initiative are chosen by TED’s panel of judges, consisting of TED speakers and rising stars in advertising. And like TED, YouTube aims to build a democratic, global platform for new and inspiring ideas. We’ve been working together for four years on Ads Worth Spreading, honoring advertising that transcends commercial messages and creates something that people should share.

The ten ads selected this year by TED’s panel will be discussed at the TEDActive conference in Vancouver, BC, on March 17–24, 2014. Prior to that discussion, we took the list of nominees and passed it through our YouTube Leaderboard methodology to determine which ads people shared most. Five ads made both TED’s list and our Leaderboard, so we took a deeper look to try to uncover what they had in common. After some thinking and a lot of discussing, we found a few key elements.

First, some of these ads take the awe-inspiring technology of engineering and scientific complexity—such as Honda’s creation of everything from robots to boat engines, or IBM’s “A Boy and His Atom”—and elevate the beautiful simplicity of those innovations. These ads tap in to our age-old desire to understand the complexity in the world around us. There’s also some form of energy exchange. The ad makes us feel something, and when we as humans feel something, we’re hardwired to share whatever gave us that feeling.

When we talk to marketers about creating video ads for the web, we find they frequently think slapstick silliness is what sings on YouTube. While this is true in some cases, this list shows us that viewers want to be moved, emotionally or even physically—as with Guinness’ “Wheelchair Basketball” or Virgin’s “Safety Dance.” Finally, as so many great ads have done before, ads such as Dove’s “Camera Shy” hold up the mirror to our individual humanity and remind us that we can aspire to live a happier, more fulfilled life. In the end, the ads that resonate on a deeply human level and tap into universal needs and desires are the ones that spread.

What’s most fascinating about this comparison is that no matter the audience, we’re all moved by memorable, energetic, empathic human stories presented in a new light. When you’re able to reimagine these insights, human desires and truths, you can create content that appeals to not just esteemed judging panels but also millions of people across the web.

"Wheelchair Basketball"
Brand: Guinness
Agency: BBDO, New York
Views: 8,323,473

This piece is powerful because it makes us ponder the lengths we’d go to for the people who are most important to us. It beautifully aligns Guinness with loyalty, sacrifice and dedication and implies that Guinness is the beer to drink with the people who truly matter to us.

"A Boy and His Atom"
Brand: IBM
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, New York
Views: 4,927,724

In this case, the context of the ad is as remarkable as the video itself. (In fact, the “making of” video has almost 800,000 views of its own.) While the story is straightforward and the delivery is deceptively simple, the effect is deeply moving. It successfully and creatively conveys IBM’s message that the science of innovation is not only amazing, but also magical, playful and fun.

Brand: Honda
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, London
Views: 10,908,129

In short, "Hands" is mesmerizing. It’s a visually stunning depiction of what Honda’s engineers are capable of. When we think of a "branded house" such as Honda, it’s hard to fathom how to fit all of the products into the same spot, but Honda deftly brings together both a robot and a boat motor. This piece visually captures the wonder and excitement of creation.

“Camera Shy”
Brand: Dove
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, UK
Views: 17,681,985

Dove has done something magical here, just as it’s done with many of its other beauty-focused spots: It uncovered something about the female mind that hadn’t ever been broadly discussed. In a culture increasingly obsessed with selfies, this piece brings everyone who has ever hated a picture of herself into the conversation.

“Safety Dance”
Brand: Virgin Air
Agency: Virgin Produced
Views: 8,817,194

This video is an immediate shot to the arm of exuberance. Virgin isn’t the first airline to innovate its safety video, but it’s the first to bring in YouTube dancers, choreographers and directors to make it a real party. People are dancing in their seats—eight million people and counting—before they even get on the plane.

Views are from January 1, 2013, to February 24, 2014.

Abigail Posner

Head of Strategic Planning, Agency Development, Google

Ben Jones

Creative Director, Google

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