What IS a Viral Video?

I’d say that easily two thirds of the customers (or potential customers) who talk to us about a project tell us that their goal is “to create a viral video.” To this request we offer the same answer so often that I figured it was time to write it out.

virusAnd it’s not necessarily what you want to hear. But bear with me.

Unless you are among an incredibly small fraction of a percent of the world economy, your product does not have what it takes to blow people away. I’m really sorry. You see, your product might be slick, efficient, inexpensive, powerful, and all of the other sunshine words we all like to use to imply superlative value. But if you plan to be talking in your video about how your product works or why people should use it, you’ve basically eliminated any chance of it going truly viral.

This is not to say that the videos won’t be shared or passed from one viewer to the next; the viewer pool will just be much more focused: it will be your target demographic. Someone who sees the video and connects to your service will naturally want to share the great find with all of his or her friends who may find it relevant…and so the video is passed around.

So no, we don’t get bogged down by focusing on statistics of views and reach. What we really care about…and know…is that a lot of our clients return for new projects when they have a new product or want to showcase another feature. They have all been happy with the results and the feedback…and so they share our portfolio and our name with their friends. Much like our videos are passed from one viewer to the next.

Yes, there are also a number of viral videos that do highlight products. But it’s either tangential, or, frankly, these are rare cases where for instance, a blender can crush virtually anything you put into it. More often than not, though, they’re part of a very expensive, comprehensive advertising campaign developed by huge global advertising agencies.

Old Spice GuyTake the Old Spice campaign as an example…it’s a series of videos plus ads on television and the use of twitter and facebook for a full-on campaign that was compelling enough and exciting enough for people to just naturally spread it. They’re not videos that cover all the features and benefits of the product…they’re just hilarious and awesome. And you remember the name when you see the product on the shelf.

I mean honestly…look at your man…and back and the Old Spice guy.

A RapidFire Video is designed to quickly reel in someone who has reached your site and isn’t quite sold on the idea itself or on how it might impact him. So yes, you do have to get into your site first in order to see the video, or come up with other ways of reaching out with it. Once our video has made a connection by making it relevant, touched an emotional nerve and created a compelling enough argument to get him or her to explore further, you do still need supporting material on your web site to further educate and close the deal. There are a number of moving parts here, and lots of experimenting to do.

So just to review the basics: By definition, a video only becomes viral when it is compelling enough to trigger the sharing of its URL hundreds of thousands of times. Simple enough. So what compels someone to grab a link and send it off to a bunch of people via e-mail, Facebook, or a blog? The first and simplest answer is off-the-wall humor. Something that reaches way beyond “cute” and really elicits a guffaw or a snort. The clip that, in the physical world, would have you calling someone in from the next room to see it. The other broad category might be called “chutzpa”: The video that shows you something that astounds – something you would almost not have believed possible, were you not seeing it on the screen.

Whether it’s acrobatics, animal tricks, stunningly synced flash mobs or a cleverly edited segment of iconoclastic pronouncements, these videos generally cater to the lowest common denominator and as such are naturally applicable to the greatest number of people.

More often than not, these viral videos are not ad campaigns, they’re just hilarious moments in time that are caught on film and spread around the world. There is no mention of any product…it’s just pure entertainment. As such, they do not cause any change in habits for the viewers, and thus the massive number of views don’t actually turn into dollars (But even when they do try to push a product, people aren’t focusing on that part of the message. I read that Evian sales dipped 28% in 2009, following the brilliant roller-blading babies).

What you’ve got to understand is that a video can be effective, popular, forwarded to relevant people, seen by your target audience, reposted on sites and used to drive sales – all without being viral in the way you’re thinking.

Silverfish hand catch!

No related posts.

  • http://nostupidanswers.com Liz

    Thanks for pointing out the differences… Not many understand the viral concept, and think they can ‘order’ one like any other marketing material.

  • Sara

    I agree with your assertions that sass and humor go far, and also with your very important point that virality does not necessarily translate into cash. It is also interesting to note that viral content – no matter how successful – usually disappears from major focus within 2 weeks….just like a real virus. It is a fleeting enterprise indeed, which is why your advice to focus efforts on people who will actually buy from you – instead of literally 15 minutes of fame – is probably great advice. HOWEVER- if you are not a business, but primarily an artist – virality may be the greater reward. (Trust me on this. :) ) I imagine the challenge to create something that gets a million views (no matter who) must be a huge temptation for video creators, and it is great that you are level headed and professional enough to practice as you write above – keeping clients focused on what’s real.

  • Pingback: The vague value of viral videos | RapidFire Rants & Raves