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Viral ads, what are they?

What is a $1 Million Viral Ad?

Sugatan’s Viral Ad Methodology

 

Kris Sugatan

Written by Kris Sugatan 
CEO & Founder
September 1, 2022

 

If you’re on social media, you’ve most definitely come across a viral ad before. Maybe you’ve even been converted by one and made a purchase. 

Viral ads make tens of millions of dollars for eCommerce brands every year. But do you know why certain ads go viral? That’s what I want to dissect in this article. 

I’ll give you the definition and mechanics behind a viral ad, show you examples of viral ads we’ve produced, and explore Sugatan’s viral ads methodology to explain how we produce ads that scale eCommerce brands in the beauty, fashion, and lifestyle categories. 

This article is for you if you’re advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok; if you have the ability to scale your revenue very fast, or if you’re considering starting an eCommerce store and want to learn how to bootstrap its growth.

Would you prefer to digest this information by watching a video presentation? Click here to access the video.

 

What is a Viral Ad?

So, what the heck makes an ad viral?

The condensed definition is that a viral ad transcends demographics to generate an abnormally high amount of engagement on social media (reactions, comments, shares, clicks).

A viral ad has the ability to scale incredibly fast, generating $1MM+ in revenue with a single ad or ad set. It is human-centric, offer-centric, product-centric, and follows platform-first principles.

I’ll explain these characteristics in more detail to paint a clearer picture for you.

 

1. A viral ad transcends demographics

An ad goes viral when it is relatable to people across multiple demographics.

Traditional marketing encourages you to narrowly define your target persona, asking questions like, “Is our target audience millennials that are single moms? Is it newlyweds? Is it people over 45?”

It’s usually all about narrowly defining a demographic, but viral is the inverse of that.

A viral ad transcends age ranges and locations, and it can even transcend gender, so it could be relatable to males and females.

 

2. It gets an abnormally high amount of engagement on social media

A viral ad doesn’t just get way more likes than usual, it also achieves a healthy combination of engagement through clicks, reactions, shares, and comments.

Example of viral ad

 

3. A viral ad can scale a business’s revenue very fast

Inside Sugatan, we look at the amount of revenue an ad generates as the primary metric for a viral ad. If an ad generates $1MM and over, it is considered to be viral.

Here’s an example of a single ad that we produced in-house that generated around $1.3MM in revenue with a 2.05x ROAS.

Gatsby Shoes viral ad

I’ll give you more details about this ad in the next section of the article.

 

4. Viral ads are immune to rising advertising costs and algorithm changes

As we all know, advertising costs are just going to get more expensive over time. 

But viral ads are actually immune to rising advertising costs and algorithm changes because viral ads speak to the human rather than depending solely on the algorithm. 

Of course, the algorithm helps to push ads out and increases their reach. However, by definition, “viral” means something is worthy of high engagement and sharing en masse.

If people are compelled to share a certain piece of content, algorithm changes won’t have much of an impact on that shareability.

 

Viral Ad Examples

Now that you know what a viral ad is, I’m going to show you three examples of viral ads we’ve produced and explore why they worked.

 

Gatsby Shoes

The Founder of this shoe brand came to us last August. He was doing around $50K per month in revenue. Today, they’re hovering around $900K per month in revenue.

Gatsby Shoes viral ad

View the ad on Facebook.

Here’s how this viral ad performed:

  • 8.5 million views 
  • 30K engagement with 5K comments
  • Ad Spend: $614,964.52
  • Revenue: $1,260,677.27
  • ROAS: 2.05x
  • Link CTR: 1.13%
  • Link CPC: $1.24
  • CPM: $13.97

 

Clearly, this is a very simple graphic ad. It proves you don’t need complicated high-fidelity videos or any gimmicks to create a viral ad.

It tells a polaroid-style visual story with super simple animation (GIF slide), showcasing the available product colors.

The setting of the photographs creates a warm yet stylish feeling and the headline sums up the product’s gist in one short but powerful message.

The simple but effective formula for this viral ad = Hi-fi images with a stylish setting + simple animation that shows color range AND attracts attention + a powerful, timeless message.

Truly, the message is what sets this ad apart. It’s a bold statement to make, saying these dress shoes feel better than sneakers, and it certainly got people’s attention.

Take a look at when this viral ad started to hit and how quickly it scaled the brand from there.

Gatsby Shoes scaling chart

Unfortunately, most brands find themselves facing inventory issues when the demand skyrockets like this. You can see that happening in the dip, followed by another surge in sales once inventory balanced out and we could continue scaling.

This is the typical trajectory whenever we execute a viral ad for a business. 

 

Maine Roast

This ad is a perfect example of the typical first signals we look for in a viral ad. Can you tell why this ad went viral?

Our first signal of success was that we achieved 7 purchases after spending just $65 on the ad.

CPA: $9.28
AOV: $56.67
ROAS: ~6x TOF

The 6x ROAS was just for Top-Of-Funnel on a completely cold audience.

This ad ended up generating $1 million just for that product alone.

The amazing thing is that there was no high-fidelity production involved and it didn’t require a studio; only an iPhone and a willing subject to try the product.

What really worked with this viral ad is that it feels 100% authentic with that typical UGC format of a person holding the phone and talking into the camera.

It looks native to the platform (being shot in 9:16 portrait mode on an iPhone) and feels unscripted and real.

 

Hey Bud

The thing is, it’s not just video ads that go viral. Graphic ads have the potential to go viral too!

Hey Bud viral ad

Results from this viral ad:

  • $100K Ad Spend
  • $300K Revenue
  • 3x ROAS

This simple graphic and straightforward copy got over 2.4K comments and over 800 shares.

It goes to show that simplicity can be just as effective as highly produced ads.

The ad copy is short but still gives you the benefits and product info you need to pique your interest and get you to click the button to find out more, or potentially make a purchase.

Hey Bud viral ad copy

Don’t you just want to dig your finger into that yummy green sludge?

The close-up photo of the product (with the lid off) shows the viewer exactly what they’ll be getting. It’s so simple but highly effective!

Would you like to see 20+ proven viral strategies and more examples of viral ads on different platforms? Bookmark this article for later.

 

Sugatan’s Viral Ad Methodology: The Scaling Machine

To date, we have scaled 15 independent beauty, lifestyle, and fashion eCommerce brands from growth stage (hitting a minimum of 30K per month in revenue) to becoming multi-million-dollar brands, making $1MM plus in revenue per month in less than 12 months.

We’ve done this just with Top-Of-Funnel, cold audience acquisition channels. Yes, there are other revenue channels, but we only focus on this concept to really scale brands like crazy.

We’ve honed this methodology to create our Scaling Machine.

Since day one, it has been my goal to build a predictable output Scaling Machine that can perform based on a repeatable formula.

While we started out as a Facebook ad agency, today, Sugatan.io is not an agency. It is an operational house for the Scaling Machine that predictably turns $1 into $3.

But before I go into further details, I want to dispel some myths for you.

Myth 1:
You need to be a stellar advertiser that comes up with viral concepts.

Myth 2::
You need to be creative to produce a viral ad.

Myth 3:
You need to be a professional copywriter or know copywriting principles.

 

These three myths are statements that I have heard many times over but I’m telling you now that they are not requirements for producing viral ads.

You don’t need to be creative, you don’t need to know copywriting, and you don’t need to be a pro advertiser to go viral.

However, you do need to know how to build teams, which is much more scalable, and you need to know the components of the scaling machine.

So, let’s dive into the 3 components of our scaling machine.

 

Component 1 – Test Viral Messaging Concepts

You need to test 50 viral messaging concepts (yes, five-zero!) to see which messages have the potential to get your ad to viral status.

These viral messaging concepts must tick 3 boxes:

  1. Follow impulse-first principles
  2. Be person-centric
  3. Be problem-solution focused

“Impulse-first principles” is our way of saying direct response principles. It means the message needs to take into consideration that it is for an impulse-based channel/platform where decisions are made in a flash.

The user needs to be intrigued/entertained, informed and directed to take some sort of action by the ad’s overall message. 

The person-centric aspect relates to the fact that an ad is viewed by a person–a human being. So it should appeal to the viewer on a human AKA personal level.

Being problem-solution focused is all in the name. The ad should relate to a problem a person may be having and then provide the solution. 

 

Copymining

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “How on earth do you come up with 50 viral messaging concepts?” 

Without having to master copywriting and without having to be a creative person, this is our in-house methodology. 

It’s called Copymining and it is exactly what it sounds like. We mine the Internet for copy–more specifically, for reviews. 

This process gives you the exact words people use when they describe your product. 

Reviews show us the way people are talking about your product or your competitor’s product in their own words.

We use a Copymining Form to complete this process.

Copymining Form

It’s a Google form where we input all the reviews we’ve mined. Notice the three checkboxes at the top: motivation, value, and anxiety.

When we input all the reviews from a client’s and their competitors’ websites, it gets attached to a spreadsheet that begins to count and categorize each of those reviews based on whether it’s value, motivation, or anxiety related. 

This is a very manual process. It takes about five to six hours for one person to complete it. However, it’s so worth the effort because this process has an extremely high ROI.

With this process, we mine real reviews from multiple sources, like Reddit, forums, competitor websites, Amazon, Clickbank, or wherever we can see actual reviews.

Once we have our reviews, we organize them into 3 categories on a spreadsheet. 

Motivation → Why they bought it

Anxieties → What they’re afraid of when it’s delivered

Values → What they loved about it after they received it 

Below is an example of the spreadsheet.

Copymining Spreadsheet

You can see that “superior overall quality” was number one in terms of the reason why people bought the product.

What they valued when they received it was the “superior overall quality” and they were anxious about whether it would be “underfilled.” For context, this product was a pillow so people were afraid that it wasn’t going to be full enough.

The whole point of this process is to get 2 potential viral messages out of the 50 that you’re testing.

 

Testing 50 Viral Messages

Once we’ve produced the 50 viral messaging concepts, we run a test with the Ads Manager. 

This is the exact setup that we use when running tests:

Campaign Objective: Traffic – ABO
Optimization for ad delivery: Link Clicks
Budget: $5 for each message
Setup: 1 headline per 1 ad set with 1 basic image (nothing fancy, just showing the product)
Countries: United States
Gender: Specific to the product
Age: 18-65+
Attribution window: Default
Placements: Auto
Timeframe: Test for 1-2 days

The reason why we use a very basic image that just shows the product is that we want to gauge what headline or message works best. We don’t want to use a strong creative to do that. It’s all about the message.

We only target a US-based audience because it is the most expensive country to advertise to, and if it works there, it will work everywhere else. 

The metrics we look at:

After 1 day or $5 spent, we pause the ad sets with the lowest CTR and highest CPC.

We leave those that were the winners and that have potential (good to medium results) active.

After 2 days or $10 spent according to the highest CTR or sales (highest signal), we choose the winning headlines.

Note that CPC is a secondary metric because the CPM varies.

Here is my most recent example of us testing against 50 viral messaging concepts for Gatsby Shoes. The winners have trophy emojis next to them.

Slack chat screenshot

The ones that came out on top were from the Link Click campaigns. So, then our next step would be to go ahead and test them on Conversion campaigns.

As you can see here, what worked on the Link Click campaign actually worked on the Conversion campaign too.

Remember, this was for a men’s shoe brand, so it’s quite interesting to see “your wife approves” and “affordable dress sneakers for every occasion” as the winners.

Just so you know, “your wife approves” works all across the board! It is a very powerful line of copy, and we see it working over and over again.

Another thing that almost always works is irony. If you can leverage two things that don’t usually go together but you make it work, you’ve struck gold.

For example, nobody has ever heard of “dress sneakers” but by saying these dress shoes feel better than sneakers, we’re bringing the two together.

 

Component 2 – Creative Production

This component is all about the creatives. Every creative must follow these principles:

  1. Platform-first
  2. Emphasize the first millisecond 
  3. Earn every second of attention thereafter 

 

Follow Platform-first Principles

The creative has to be as native to the feed as possible, depending on what platform you’re advertising on. This also refers to the placements on the platform (e.g. Stories vs Reels vs Feed Posts).

Ask yourself, “What is native to the Facebook feed?” Scroll your own feed and take note of what you see. People are mostly telling their personal stories, right?

That tells you that it will work well on the Facebook feed if you’re telling a personal story from a first-person perspective.

One of my own highest performing posts on Facebook was a post where I started with, “This is not a love story, this is a revenge story.”

It went on to describe my client’s personal story about her husband cheating on her, getting a divorce, and that she was left with three kids.

In the end, she’s selling a product, but the story is what got people interested in the first place.

The same principle applies to TikTok and making content that is native to the platform.

Advertising principles will never change. What worked for newspapers back in 1900 also worked with the innovation of TV, and now in this age, social media is the new media but the principles remain sound.

You really have to adapt to every platform to put out ads that look native to the platform and sound native in terms of copy too. It has to have a native tone, native music, and native pacing.

Here’s an example of a TikTok ad we produced for Hey Bud that accomplishes this beautifully.

This ad generated $300K in revenue at a 3x ROAS.

There’s nobody narrating the ad or talking about the product. This is typical of TikTok where you don’t really have to talk but by using a trending sound and transformation video, you’re hitting all the native TikTok boxes.

 

The First Milliseconds

Decisions are made within milliseconds on social media. This applies to every single app on phone, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Tinder, Clubhouse, Reddit, et cetera.

Swiping on the Tinder app

The video above isn’t just here for eye candy. This is a real video of an actual person scrolling on Tinder. This is legitimately how fast she’s making a decision.

It proves that people really do make decisions to shop (even for humans) in the first milliseconds.

For viral ads, you need to make sure the first second is eye-catching, the message comes across strongly, and you stop the person from scrolling past by all means necessary.

 

Earn Every Second

Once you’ve earned that first millisecond of attention, you need to earn every second of their attention thereafter too.

Tinder scrolling and stopping

No matter how long that second seems, every second needs to be thought through very carefully.

You might think your competitor is your brand competitor, but your true competition is anything that disrupts a person’s train of thought.

Every single notification a person gets on their phone is your competitor. It is anything or anyone that’s taking the attention away from your ad. That’s why you need to earn every second of their attention.

Often, that means talking to your audience like a five-year-old and doing some major hand-holding, always referencing your product. Every. Single. Second.

This was a hard lesson that I had to learn because there’s a difference between a viral ad that sells and a viral ad that doesn’t sell.

We learned the difference between the two was that a viral ad that didn’t sell (even with 2 million views on TikTok) was because we didn’t position the product from beginning to end.

It’s only when you position the product from start to finish that a viral ad actually sells.

I highly recommend that you hire Gen Z content creators and creative strategists and let them experiment, but teach them these principles.

 

Component 3 – The Production Machine & Agile Framework

Looking at it from a higher level perspective, there’s a 2% conversion rate rule that we’ve learned to respect.

After scaling 15 brands and doing this over the last 4 years, we’ve come to the conclusion that a website’s average conversion rate is 2%.

The same goes for hiring. When you open up applications to hire new talent, only about 2% will be of really high quality.

And it’s exactly the same for creative production. Out of 100 ads, 2% will convert to become viral ads.

That’s been our conversion rate for the last 4 years and it has taught us that if you don’t see a 2% conversion rate, you need to refine your production machine.

Inside Sugatan, our creative production machine actually follows an Agile framework. Agile is a SaaS model that we reinterpreted into our production machine.

The reason for this is that we are essentially setting up a system where our team members are executing the output, and then they reflect and adapt in real-time based on the data feedback loop about what needs to change.

This is a continuously, dynamically agile framework that we’ve implemented inside Sugatan which allows us to execute high-quality creatives (with viral potential) at a rapid pace. 

If you’d like to learn more about our Agile processes, I recommend reading about Pillar 4 in this article. 

 

We Can Produce Viral Ad Creatives For You

If this describes your situation, our True Performance Creative Bundle is perfect for you!

  • You’ve mapped out a great marketing strategy 
  • You have a skilled team of ad buyers who can manage your ads
  • You just need the right creatives to help you go viral 

Our multi-million dollar experienced Creative Strategists will deliver 100 social media ads to your team.

Our Graphic Ads have generated $10MM+ in trackable revenue. Combined, they have maintained an average of 2.5x ROAS.

Our Video Ads have generated $13MM+ in trackable revenue, reaching over 20MM people across the globe, also maintaining an average of 2.5x ROAS.

Examples of viral ad creatives

The True Performance Creative Bundle includes the following:

Research & Auditing

Before we start creating, we conduct a thorough audit consisting of:

  • Competitive intelligence: we research your primary top revenue-generating competitors thoroughly
  • Copymining: “review mining” to gain customer insights
  • Compiling a Product & Avatar master sheet to research your products and customer base
  • Selecting the best creatives for your package
  • Evaluating whether production is needed 
  • Establishing the level of production that is needed
  • Identifying your current media buying capacity

8 Unique Video Concepts

You will receive 24 videos in total, including:

  • Video strategy
  • Video editing
  • Lo-fi video production
  • Creative copy
  • Conversion principles
  • 3 iterations of each concept

30 Bespoke Graphic Concepts

You will receive 76 graphics in total, including:

  • Graphics strategy
  • GIFs
  • Static images
  • Lo-fi photo production
  • Creative copy
  • Conversion principles
  • ± 3 iterations of each concept

The bundle also includes creative variations, ad copy, and creative optimization.

A custom bundle that perfectly suits your needs can be developed for an additional fee, subject to your selection of add-ons such as advertorials, hi-fi photo production, or creative consultations.

True Performance Creative Bundle

Complete the application form and our team will get in touch with you very soon.

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