Here’s What These Viral 15-Second Videos Can Teach You About Storytelling

If you want to get better at visual storytelling, there’s a lot of material you can use as inspiration.

Oscar-winning movies, binge-worthy TV shows, other marketing videos…

OR you can study 15-second viral videos that are taking the internet by storm right now!

(Yes, really.)

These clips, usually made in TikTok (a crazy popular video app), are an accidental masterclass in just how far good storytelling can take you.

Despite the 15-second time limit and rock-bottom “production values,” they still offer some of the funniest, most interesting and dramatic content you’ll ever see on social media.

And marketers can learn a lot from these videos! If you’re skeptical, we’ll prove it to you in today’s article.

This week, we invite you to fall down the rabbit hole of super-short viral videos with us. We promise that you’ll come out the other side — armed with useful insights you can apply to your brand storytelling!

Even if you have no interest in making 15-second marketing videos, these lessons will still help you:

  • Boost engagement and get people to watch your videos all the way through…
  • Make your marketing videos 100x more memorable to your viewers…
  • Create stories that your audience actually wants to share…

And more.

So take our hand as we venture into the world of weird humor, absurd memes, and surprisingly competent storytelling…

Storytelling lessons from viral tiktok videos

Lesson 1. Express ONE simple idea, like this video that screams “classy”

Every time you create a story video, ask yourself, “What message am I trying to convey?”

The core ideas behind most catchy stories are:

  1. Simple — as in, you can express them in a single sentence
  2. Singular — they don’t compete with other ideas for attention

Here’s the perfect example of a short video that clearly communicates one idea: “This woman is incredibly classy!”

The person in question is Loora Wang — a Chinese fashion designer who uses TikTok videos to promote her personal brand and her work. She has quite a few clips, but this one went viral because it’s both funny and perfectly on-brand.

In the video, Loora is walking the street with her sister, who’s pointing an umbrella at the camera as if she’s shooting a machine gun. Gently but firmly, Loora takes away the umbrella, flips it and opens it in — all in one smooth movement. Then she lightly smirks at the viewer (in slow motion, no less!) as the two walk off.

What’s the takeaway? 

Before you create any kind of story video, be crystal-clear about the message you want to convey. Make that message as simple as possible, and make sure everything in the video supports it and reinforces it.

For example, that clip we just looked at uses multiple things to communicate “classy”: the contrast between fashionable Loora and her goofy-acting sister, the confident “takeover” of the umbrella, the sister’s delighted look, the slow motion and the smirk at the end… everything drives the message home.

Lesson 2. Introduce conflict — like this heartbreaking story of trying to win a duck’s love

Stories don’t work nearly as well without conflict. Every character needs a flaw, every hero needs a goal, every plot needs obstacles and high stakes. These elements help us stay engaged with the story and invested in how it ends.

Now, conflict and drama don’t need to involve life and death or be serious. A story can feel dramatic even if it’s about a woman trying to befriend a duck…

…except the duck keeps biting her.

The conflict in this video is played for laughs — but weirdly, it works. The clip is hilarious and ridiculously rewatchable just for the woman’s emotional reactions alone. If this were just a cute duck video, it wouldn’t work nearly as well. But with a fowl conflict thrown in (pun always intended), it’s a viral hit!

What’s the takeaway? 

Always start your brand story with a problem. For example, if you’re making a customer-led story video, make sure to emphasize their struggle and any obstacles they had to overcome. That’s how you get people invested in the character and what happens to them!

Lesson 3. Create a cool ending, like this delightful video by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Before writing this article, we had no idea that Arnold Schwarzenegger was a TikTok superstar, with over 1 million followers on the site. Well, now we know — and so do you!

Of his many excellent videos, this one is probably the best. In it, the Terminator is riding his bicycle, and a mini-pony named Whiskey is running around keeping him company. Oh, and did we mention that the whole thing is set to Toby Keith’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy”?

At the very end, the video cuts to Whiskey taking a big ol’ bite out of a carrot Arnold is holding — and looking at the camera. Awww!

If there is such a thing as the “perfect” ending, this is it. It takes the characters and themes of the video —  Schwarzenegger, the pony, the homelike “I-wish-I-was-there” feeling of it all… and sums them all up in one shot.

What’s the takeaway? 

Too often marketing videos just sort of… end. They fizz out on a simple call to action, and there’s that. Why not use the last few seconds of your video to reinforce your message again?

Restate the key benefits of your product or service, ask your audience a thought-provoking question, highlight a powerful quote from a customer… there are tons of ways you can end your story video in a memorable way. Don’t neglect them!

Lesson 4. Play with audience expectations like this 7-second horror movie

Here’s how you can make a memorable video in just 2 steps:

  1. Know what your viewers expect to happen
  2. Defy these expectations with something cool and different

For example, this viral video starts the same way as millions of boring clips on social media — with a beautiful woman in a pool, having a great time and wanting everyone to know it.

But halfway into the video, a small alligator marches past her and into the pool. In a split-second, you can see the woman’s face go from pleased to startled to absolutely horrified

…and she bolts out of the pool!

This clip is like a bite-sized horror-comedy. Start to finish, it plays out in just 7 seconds. And because it was such a surprising experience, the video got thousands of organic shares and 8+ million views — no calls to action necessary!

What’s the takeaway? 

Going in unexpected directions with your video content can pay off massively. Why make the same kinds of videos your viewers have seen before? Surprise them whenever you can, even in some small ways. If you do, not only will your message be more memorable, but more people will share it!

Lesson 5. Reference other ideas and stories, like this incredibly weird comedy video

Maybe the biggest myth about storytelling is that it needs to be “original.” No story is completely original — and it’s been that way for thousands of years! These days, the best way to create something “original” is to riff on existing ideas.

Remixes, references, and parodies can not only become just as well-known as the originals but even outshine them! And sometimes they turn into something entirely new and bizarre and unexpected.

Case in point: this video. You’re going to need an explanation for this one…

Here’s the thing: one of the most popular features of TikTok is something called “duets.” Basically, a user can take someone else’s video and record their own clip side by side. Most of the time people use Duets for straightforward reaction videos or “covers” where they just reproduce what’s happening.

But sometimes you get… this. A half-dude, half-dog (ah, the magic of video editing) singing “Stand By Me” while someone else uses his canine half as a musical instrument.

We told you this was going to be weird!

What’s the takeaway?

This lesson isn’t about absurdist comedy or weird memes. Instead, it’s about the fact that you don’t need 100% original story ideas to be a good storyteller. For example, you can take an idea you really like and riff on it, signal-boost it, or explore it with your story. Alternatively, you can take an idea you hate — and spoof it, debate it, and try to tear it down.

As any artist will tell you, originality is overrated!

Let us help you level up your brand storytelling

Do you want to tell brand stories that engage, delight, and most importantly — convert?

We can help!

Here at The Draw Shop, storytelling is what we do, all day every day. We employ world-class copywriters and storytellers who can discover the core of your message and make it resonate powerfully with your target audience. And then our skilled artists will bring it to life with eye-popping visuals.

Your brand deserves nothing less than an unforgettable story. If you want us to help you tell it, let’s talk!

Book a free 30-minute consultation with The Draw Shop experts