Where Wren Studio’s “First Kiss” viral video went wrong

Last week, a viral video of 20 strangers kissing for the first time made its way around the globe and quickly became the most shared and watched video in 2014. The “First Kiss” documentary style video was an advertisement for clothing retailer Wren Studio, cost about $1,300 to produce and featured professional actors. The video was quickly viewed by millions and spoofed by popular online outlets like Mashable and College Humour. But soon, the backlash began. Although the video was created as an ad, many viewers felt duped by its documentary style and claimed to have been tricked by a commercial endeavour.


The problem arose as the video was shared on other platforms, downloaded, uploaded, and embedded – and the branded retail connection was lost. The video began and ended with a plug for “Wren Studios” but the connection to a product wasn’t clear. In fact, Wren had commissioned the piece to show off its Fall clothing line – which is worn by the actors kissing in the video.

As more companies experiment with this form of branded documentary storytelling, it’s important to ensure your core product and message is clear, and remains evident as the video is shared.

Good content should be designed to travel far and wide, and across multiple channels, without dropping the plot or creating confusion.

This work has been done effectively by other companies, in a variety of on-trend styles and narrative themes.

Internet Explorer targeted a millennial audience with their nostalgic “Child of the 90s” video. Their message was clear: “You grew up. So did we.” The video reminded its audience of what they used to love in the 90s, and related the company’s progression to the way viewers have grown up over time. The video played on generational nostalgia and pop culture references, but still centred directly on the IE brand and its message of evolution.

Movie Studios have also used the branded documentary approach to great effect. To promote the horror movie Carrie, a crew created a “Telekinesis” stunt in a coffeehouse, fooling customers into thinking they were seeing an incident of terrifying mind control. The video has been viewed more than 54 million times, and included a clear plug for the film at the end.

Smaller companies have also employed this documentary technique to show off their capabilities. When a small video production company called Corridor Digital wanted to promote its services, they created a video featuring Superman’s adventures with a go-pro and earned themselves more than 10 million views in a week and dozens of articles in international publications. Their video concluded with a direct pitch for support by its creators, making it impossible to miss the point of the spot, or question its intentions.

Reacting to the negative reaction to First Kiss, Wren owner Melissa Coker said her clothing line has experienced a significant bump in sales, but that she was caught off guard by the controversy.

A first kiss of popularity is exciting for any brand, but it’s important to be in control of where things might lead.