Why Ads Go Viral, and What Made Apple’s ‘Taylor vs. Treadmill’ the Perfect Viral Spot

Unruly breaks down the science of sharing

Headshot of Alfred Maskeroni

There's a lot of mystery around what makes a video go viral and the factors that can catapult content into the stratosphere of cyber fame. Brands are hungry to harness that kind of magic, of course, which is where Unruly—a company built to shepherd brands as they attempt to shake hands with the internet zeitgeist—comes in.

Based in London and New York, Unruly describes itself as "a global video ad-tech platform" that works with brands to "help get their videos watched, shared and loved across the open web." In the video above, Unruly co-founder and co-CEO Sarah Wood explains which aspects of an ad are relevant when seeking widespread success online including the level of emotional intensity and the diversity and strength of users' social motivations. 

Wood also dispels some of the misconceptions surrounding virality.

"There's a myth around video success—which is if you get a million views or 5 million views, then you've got a successful video," Wood says. "All that view shows is how much you spent on the media. If you want to think and understand why people shared that video, and if it really has been a viral success where word of mouth played a key part, then you need to be measuring the shares." 

Below, Wood breaks down the April Fools' Day sensation "Taylor vs. Treadmill" spot for Apple Music as well as some Unruly data that gives a more in-depth view into the ingredients of the spot. 

Videos shot and edited by John Tejada.

Top Emotions – The most common positive emotions felt while watching the video (%)

National Representation:

  • Hilarity – 36%
  • Surprise – 27%
  • Happiness – 20%
  • Amazement – 11%

Millennial Females:

  • Hilarity – 43%
  • Surprise – 23%
  • Happiness – 19%
  • Warmth 10%

Millennial Males:

  • Hilarity – 37%
  • Happiness – 27%
  • Surprise – 24%
  • Sexual Arousal – 16%



Brand Favorability 

  • 20% of the target audience were more likely to increase brand favorability – Change in viewer favorability towards the brand, having watched the video.

Video comparison to US norm and tech sector

  • This video overindexed on hilarity across all age groups.
  • Millennials felt more happiness and  inspiration when watching this ad compared to national representation.




@maskeroni alfred.maskeroni@adweek.com Alfred Maskeroni is director of video for Adweek.