Magic is a key ingredient in videos going viral - the evidence is overwhelming!

By Hamish Nichols

We decided to make a random check of our theory that using magic in storytelling is incredibly effective in capturing and retaining your audience’s attention. We therefore went to the Adage website and looked at the most viral corporate videos for the months of September and November 2016. It seems pretty conclusive that magic transformations, properties and characteristics, even in disguised and/or inverted form, dominate the lists of videos gone “viral”. Magic in storytelling is not enough, however - you also need wit, imagination and taste - we’ll explore what these are and what this means for your videos in our next article.

We have previously argued that literally putting magic elements into your video can be a crucial way in which it can connect with your audience and potentially “go viral”. We cited a few examples of recent hits (Harry Potter, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, any Superhero movie) where magic casts its spell on the viewer and keeps them glued to the screen. Three months after this article, let’s look more closely at some of the evidence, especially as regards corporate videos that are deemed to be viral.

Before we get down and dirty on the examples, let’s take a moment to recap briefly what we mean by magic in visual storytelling. We mean anything that transforms from one thing to another as if “by magic” - in particular humans who become animals (or vice-a-versa), machines that do the same, people who possess special “magic” powers, animals that behave like humans, objects thathave special powers or are especially desirable and that people fight (to death) over, goblins, sprites, spells, shape-changers, mentors and magic weapons, etc.

It is worth noting that these magical elements often exist as part of a larger heroic and/or fantasy narrative that is directly or indirectly alluded to in modern-day storytelling. Nowadays, science and technology (with their origins in the magical properties of alchemy) are often presented as magical in their ability to transform reality. Comedy is often an inversion of the “hero with magical powers” and modern-day celebrities occupy the arena of “special” people somehow endowed with magic powers that enable them to be successful and/or especially beautiful and alluring.

As part of our evidence-gathering for our thesis on magic, we went to the Adage website and looked at the top five corporate ads that have gone viral in September ( ) and November of 2016 (

Of those ten videos, seven clearly use magic in the way we describe above and it could be argued that the other three do so in an inverted or indirect way. Do have a look at them as we go through some of the examples. 


Let’s start with the No.1 viral ad for November 2016, Shell’s “Make The Future”. This is a clear example of projecting science as having magical properties in its ability to “magically” transform the world - at one point, even fracking gets a magic makeover! 

Another example of science as magic is The Windows 10 Testimonialsfrom September 2016, though this is done in a more straightforwardway (it is boring old Microsoft, after all!). 

Now to the Rouge Dior ad from September 2016: we start with Nathalie Portman virtually in silhouette- she puts a coin into a machine (a photo booth, which is our magic machine), a bright light suddenly comes on and she is transformed into this Dior glamour goddess strutting the streets of Paris. The humble passport photo cabin is actually a special place where magic Dior lipstick can be applied and the shadowy, “plain” Nathalie Portman undergoes her transformation.

Next, The Heathrow Airport ad from November 2016 has teddy bears magically walking through the airport and then becoming human (sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t watched it yet) and then the Heisman House ad is an Alice in Wonderland “trip” through a dream-like, magic house.

The Google app Nougat ad from September is interesting, as it would appear too be very down-to-earth and non-magical. However, there are clear magical elements involved: cooking is essentially an act of alchemy, when ingredients are combined and transformed to produce a new, special product. The ad also makes reference to women needing to multitask better - this is definitely amagical thinking myth, as in reality it has been proven that women are no more capable of multi-tasking than men. 

Lastly we have Apple Music’s “Drake vs. Bench Press” ad, which clearly falls into the comic, reversal of “hero-with-magic-powers”/“product that gives hero magic powers” category: the audience is primed in the set-up to anticipate that Apple’s music playlist will give the performer magic powers to lift incredible weights, but in actual fact they just distract him and he hilariously falls off the bench under the weights he is trying to lift.

The point here (if you haven’t got it already) is that there is evidence-a-plenty for using magical transformation, or at least magical elements in visual storytelling. These are a brilliant way capture the attention and imagination of your audience and the best ads do this time and time again, even in disguised or inverted form. They do this so much, that it can (and frequently does) become a cliché. This is because magic has been used in stories since time immemorial to bamboozle audiences. You therefore need other elements within which to cloak your good old magic transformation/properties/traits/powers story through to a very media-saturated modern-day audience.These are the qualities of wit, imagination and taste.

Accordingly, our next article in these series, will attempt to expose what wit, imagination and taste in storytelling are and, what they plainly are not. The trend nowadays (and has been for some time) is that emotion is key to captivating your audience. We will argue that emotion in storytelling is cheap, facile and too easy to achieve and explains why so many “emotional” ads and other narrative forms are so unmemorable. Wit, imagination and taste and much harder to achieve (and more subjective) and it is on identifying and gaining these qualities that we will focus our next article - do look out for it!  And call us today if you need to add magic to your marketing video materials.