Exploring the mystery of viral videos

We hope everyone enjoyed the holidays! We surely did, but now that the presents and eggnog have passed, it’s back to the blog! This week we want to discuss something that you are likely familiar with, even probably participatory in. While you were hanging out with your friends and family over the holidays did someone pass you their phone and say, “Hey, watch this new Google commercial!”? Did you get a text from a gal pal or best bud that said something along the lines of, “OMG – This video of tiny hamsters eating tiny burritos is hilarious”. Or did you even happen to be scrolling through a social media feed and see a shared link from a friend that caught your eye?

These popular videos are what you would call viral videos. YouTube celebrity Kevin Nalty defines them as a video that gets more than 5 million views in 3-5 days. Adding to that definition, viral videos rely on the process of sharing to reach popularity. This is normally done online through social media, although mass media, such as the nightly news or late night comedy shows, can help play a role in spreading the content.

Today’s viral videos have come a long way since their creation. The first viral video was developed in the mid-90’s by the creators of the classic animated television show South Park. However, it wasn’t until the creation of the video sharing platform YouTube that viral videos became popular… remember the decade of Charlie the Unicorn, Smosh, and Chocolate Rain?

While most of the viral videos that surface online have no point besides pure entertainment, the power they have to reach and capture the attention of millions is sought after by many companies and brands. The only problem is that viral videos have no fame formula. Subjects of viral videos range from eye-witness accounts, newscast, tv skits, user generated material, music videos, and more – the list really goes on and on. But in attempt to give them some categorization, according to Michael Poh, viral videos are short and simple, evoke emotion from viewers, have universal appeal, are identifiable and relatable, and elicit a call to action.

The broad ranging and lack of formula of viral success has many scratching their heads, “If a dog dressed as a teddy bear can get millions of views, why can’t I?” However, when it comes to trying to fit viral video into the marketing equation, one thing is certain: Not all viral videos are promotional, but some promotional videos can go viral.

Promotional and viral videos can have overlapping features, but they are not the same. Promotional videos are specifically marketing and sales tools that are designed to introduce, or educate consumers about a particular product, cause, or organization. Typically, promo videos are a structured, precise, and planned media tactic. Viral videos on the other hand can be of anything, by anyone, anywhere. This doesn’t mean that promotional videos are made within a high quality studio while viral videos are shot with a shaky handycam. Viral videos can be artfully and beautifully crafted clips as well. And in turn, this also doesn’t mean that promotional videos can’t be humorous or entertaining. Take for example the Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” commercial. Although it is an ad, the humorous actor and clever universal writing made it a viral sensation.

So back to the question brand managers are asking, how can I make a viral video? There seems to be two rules that have surfaced in our research. The first – the video should portray your brand’s image but without being overly promotional. In his own article, Joshua Hardwick, explains that a video needs to ooze brand personality without giving the hard sell. As mentioned last week, it seems to be deemed that the spots that strike favor are ones that don’t explicitly “tell” you about their product, but the ones that give you a “tale” with their product. Second – you don’t get to determine whether or not is, or can be, viral – the viewers do. As much free flowing opportunity that exists within the realm of subject matter for a viral video, the viewer, and if they become a sharer, is what really matters.

However tempting it may be to try and create a viral video, the most important thing to, as with any marketing, is to remember is your audience. The reason viral videos gain such popularity is that they resonate with the viewer, so in simplest terms that should be the goal of your marketing/promotional video as well – create content that resonates with your targeted consumers. Study the demographics of your audience and find out not only what content draws them in but where they like to receive their content from. Is YouTube the best outlet for your initial video release, or should you post it on Twitter or Facebook to start circulation?  When you notice your video does start to gain notoriety, it should be easily accessible on all social platforms. It is now commonplace that online content is equipped to be shared on, at the very least, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest. This doesn’t include the many other sharing resources and tools people also use such as Tumblr, Reddit, WordPress, and even standard email. If you want to reach audiences, make your video easily sharable and compatible. If your video is good enough, your viewers will do the work for you – draw them in and then make it easy for them to send your message out.

What are some of your favorite viral videos? Have you worked on a video that went viral? What do you think made it so popular? Tell us in a comment below!

– Caroline Robinson & Savannah Valade

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