It seems that overnight, the viral video has become some sort of badge of honour within advertising communities that CMOs without them are beginning to feel like the only kid in second grade without a Cabbage Patch. Over the course of the last six months or so, every high level meeting I’ve been in always deviates to a question that doesn’t have a concrete answer – “how do we make a video that goes viral?” Up until this point, my snarky comeback was to “hire Pomplamoose and have them cover the Angry Birds theme” until I woke up one day and realised that ACTUALLY HAPPENED! and it worked…So I began to look into the videos that had in fact, gone viral, specifically, those that involved a brand. The majority of them fell into what I call the “Hire J.Lo” bucket, i.e., brand hires a celebrity, spends a ton on production and media that a lot of people might see and share this shiny video online–and if they don’t, the brand is ready to force you see it as pre roll.
But is this really the desired effect that you’re looking to create? It kind of feels like cheating–after all, isn’t the appeal of a viral video the warm feeling your brand gets because thousands of people are sharing a fun video about you? In this scenario, thousands of people just can’t avoid your video.
The second, and much more elusive effect is when a brand produces a piece of content that people fall in love with and actually want to share with their friends and followers. These usually don’t involve huge budgets and just represent a clever bit of storytelling that is purely designed for web audiences. These, I determined were videos that had truly viral elements, which got me thinking, even if there is no magic bullet for creating a viral video, there must be attributes that they share and could be replicated to increase the probability of having your video go viral, and this is what I found:
1) Create lots of videos. Simply put, the more videos you produce, the greater your chances that one of them will go viral. Think of it this way, if you’re flipping a coin and are looking for a run of 10 heads in a row, it may happen in your first 50 flips, but if you flipped the coin 1,000 times, there’s a far greater chance it’ll happen. The same logic applies here.
2) Create lots of funny videos. If you’ve never had to have an uncomfortable night where one of your friends “invites” you to their stand up routine on open mic night, consider yourself spared—I’ve come to the realisation that everyone on this planet has an inner desire to be funny–no matter how inherently un-funny they are. Luckily for us, things like Facebook walls give people the opportunity to entertain with humour, even if they didn’t write the material. So, if you can’t actually be funny, you can, and will want to, share what’s funny.
3) Create videos that automatically seed themselves within communities and fan bases. Hives of enthusiasts for everything from RoboCop to Glass Blowing are everywhere and rabidly engaged–if you give them some content that plays to their fanaticism, either negatively or positively, chances are that they’ll be seeding the content and posting it everywhere for you.
4) Exploit parody laws – There’s a reason that Weird Al has 7 Platinum Albums on his wall. Your lawyer might not sleep much while this is happening but parodies consistently outperform completely original content. Parodying something popular lets you ride existing popularity and, as a bonus, gives your content long tail shelf life. [EXAMPLE – Twitter/Social Network Parody]
5) Holy s**t–is that real? Creating a discussion as to a piece of media’s authenticity can cause a stir and a lot of shares online. Relativity Media did this to great success with the Times Square Billboard Hack Video it created to promote the release of Limitless this spring. Before that, HiTec Sports created some brilliant YouTube slight of hand with this Liquid Mountaineering Video.
6) Showcase techniques such as miniatures, stop motion, time lapse, action figures, and Legos. People love visually compelling content and one way to create it is to experiment with filmmaking techniques to try and show people something they haven’t seen before. Videos that are unexpected get people excited and foster a “saw it first” mentality. [EXAMPLE – “Gulp“, the world’s largest stop motion video by Nokia]
7) Play with memes – they’re like the internet’s greatest underground hits – but, timing, and the ability to act quickly is crucial – by now, planking might feel as overplayed as Black Dog on FM radio, but if you catch on to something new like the Honey Badger or Chuck Testa and can act quickly to people at the right time, you’ve got a chance at some resonance. For reference – knowyourmeme.com
8) Push the boundaries of what’s comfortable or expected from your brand. If you’ve got a brand that people associate with one audience or mentality, doing something unexpected will draw attention. For example, if you’re Woolite and you hire Rob Zombie to direct a commercial for you, the chatter surrounding the “strangeness” of that choice will pique people’s interest.
9) “So bad it’s good” The web loves epic failures and anything done so horribly that it’s awe-inspiring will create a lot of finger pointing. [EXAMPLE – Preposterously bad VFX reel]
10) Combine these techniques. If you kick it up a notch and combine any of my tips, you’re compounding the likelihood of it happening. For example a recent video that was sourced by Duck Tape brand Duct Tape on Tongal combined #7, a meme (Tron Guy), #3 an enormous, geeky fan base (Tron), and #6 a technique (Stop Motion) then debuted (above J. Lo) on the Ad Age Viral Video Chart. [EXAMPLE – DUCK TRON]
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