The concept of creating a viral video for a viral marketing campaign has been a bee in my bonnet ever since I started in social media marketing. The truth is: it’s impossible to develop a video and know, with 100% certainty, that it will go viral. You could have a million-dollar budget, the best creative minds in the industry and still not achieve true virality.
But, in order for me to make my point, we have to take a few steps back and examine the nature of viral marketing, its history and why everyone seems to think there’s an ‘art’ or a ‘formula’ in creating a truly viral campaign.
A viral video is typically uploaded to a platform like YouTube or Vimeo and becomes popular because thousands, even millions, of people share it, interact with it, talk about it, and love it. Check out some popular examples here:
Virality is a digital extension of word-of-mouth marketing, which has long been considered the most powerful form of passing information and generating ‘buzz.’
This commonly held conception isn’t wrong! And, there are definite ways for an organization to take advantage of online word-of-mouth buzz in their marketing material. In fact, it’s what every campaign should aim for. Collective interest in a digital recapturing of word-of-mouth marketing is the reason why social media for business has become so widespread over the past five years or so. It’s the new word-of-mouth.
Creating a viral video is very attractive for a number of reasons, all boiling down to two key motivators: fame and money.
A handful of the most famous celebrities in popular culture today were born out of YouTube success. This, in turn, made them very wealthy. Even YouTube celebrities who don’t extend their act into other forms of mainstream media can be remunerated for their stroke of luck. YouTube compensated the parents of “David After Dentist” about $100,000 for their video’s success.
From a marketing standpoint, being the mind behind a viral campaign is an alluring prospect. In effect, many creative marketers use it as a benchmark for having championed the Internet, so to speak. At their core, most online platforms exist now to sell us things.
Whether we’re buying them by actually, physically purchasing them or buying into the idea through sharing it with our network of connections…we’re all digital consumers. Actualizing a viral video means whoever created it manipulated the selling power of the Internet to the highest degree. This is why a viral promo video is the digital white whale for so many creative marketing departments.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter…these platforms all have advertising. You can create a reasonable facsimile of a viral video by promoting it through social advertising. This has its benefits. If you pour enough money into advertising, you can generate thousands of views for your video and that looks really good when organic viewers stumble upon it.
It lends your brand credibility and brings a certain caché to your campaign. However, in my opinion, true virality is an intertwining of organic and viral: videos that take off on their own steam, with minimal promotion, simply because they speak to a majority of people…those are the truly viral videos. They have the most impact, create the most buzz and are the most elusive to content creators.
The Viral Myth stems from the widely held belief that you can harness the power of social networking and word-of-mouth marketing to blast something into cyberspace on an instantaneously global scale; that, using state of the art technology, psychology and creative juice, you can tap into people’s emotions, their will to learn, their very idea of themselves to catapult your YouTube video into astronomical success overnight.
Viral videos are successful because of certain compelling elements—aspects that tap into viewers’ need to share, their sense of common experience. No one can predict these hooks. If I were to guess, they’re most dependent on the widespread climate according to current affairs; what the major, international news stories are and how people are reacting to them. To forecast this type of sentiment requires more intuitive tools than I (or, I’d venture to guess, ANY creative digital marketing person) have in my arsenal.
A more realistic, attainable goal is, instead of setting out to make something viral, aim for impactful. You can still incorporate creative, emotional, and educational elements…just don’t do it for the sake of going viral. The worst thing about so many marketing campaigns now is that you can just tell they’re only making promo videos for the sake of going viral.
It’s as predictable as some of Stephen King’s more recent work…. you know, when he started writing books with movie scripts in mind. Let’s be honest–’Dreamcatcher’ vs. ‘Shawshank’? The quality is incomparable.
Lately, the message is secondary to the viral potential. Believe it or not, when you’re trying to predict which psychological triggers, which lame jokes and which crazy graphics will resonate with millions of people, you aren’t focusing on strengthening your brand. Like the Brad Pitt Chanel commercial, for instance:
I mean, obviously they would get a ton of views because A) It’s Brad Pitt and B) It’s Chanel. But is this a truly viral campaign? I don’t think so. I really don’t. It was discussed on popular talk shows. But, that’s because it was ridiculous. They weren’t on message and they were reaching. They were trying to create something dauntless…a testament to their company’s insight, their ability to gauge what gives people the shivers. But, his looming, vainglorious face was just unsettling. And it was so obvious they were just trying to go viral! They’re selling a woman’s perfume, for God’s sake and they used a man! Perhaps the most recognizable man in the world. Instead of skillfully crafting a message embedded in a clever, resonant ad campaign, they went for broke and artistically flopped.
Of course, Chanel isn’t the only guilty company, but this is a good example of how even huge multinationals can miss the mark when their only marketing goal is creating something viral. I think the most effective marketing campaigns, the ones that really deliver, are the ones that are tailored to a specific audience for a product. Well-rounded market research and thoughtful, targeted creative will yield the most impressive results. If the message is genuine and people relate to it…I think you may have a better chance of appealing to a larger common denominator, thus increasing your viral potential. A classic case of finding something when you aren’t looking.
Image Source: Gilbert Wilson, Moby Dick Arises from the Deep
Sometimes you learn lessons late in life and that certainly applies to my understanding of the sales person’s role. I bought out my partner over 3 years ago. He did a great job looking after our existing accounts but he and I didn’t see eye to eye on our need to add new clients. It was the old farmer/hunter sales scenario and it’s a discussion I still hear tossed about frequently throughout the industry.
Buying out my partner, the recession and hiring a younger “high-polish” sales person all came at the same time. Like many who entered into a position of top line responsibility during the recent recession, it was a tough time to start a new venture.
It was interesting how people reacted to a change in the guard. Most of our existing customers preferred my old partner calling on them and found the new guy a bit too slick. But, he was a hunter and the new opportunities he created with like individuals were a good match… they thought highly of him. We gave it a year, he got an opportunity back in the finance world he came from and we called it a day. I recouped maybe 25% of what I spent on the exercise but I also learned much from the experience. The number one thing…the role confidence plays in the sales process.
Times were tough, we put more weight on our online marketing and it worked, so we passed that on to our smaller clients. Many of our big clients disappeared during the recession, they had to stop the bleeding and they chose to cut advertising.
We saw immediate results from the more enhanced web efforts and entered into social media a bit, including blogging. Our sales approach was more technical in nature and we took a team of 3 individuals with diverse skill sets and backgrounds and that got the job done…or so we thought.
We opened up Montreal earlier this year and have a very capable representative calling on the industry. We followed up with another account manager in Toronto this summer. Why you might add?
The web gives us as many new sales opportunities as we can handle but I found that we were running too lean to properly stay in touch with the clients we had. We would do our best on each client’s project but then we would lose touch if there were no pending additional needs. Recently, we discovered that we missed additional opportunities as a result of our “sales silence”. This isn’t just bad for us, it’s bad for our clients as the continuity of their marketing can get off track in a hurry.
The lesson learned once again… it’s not A or B, it’s A and B. You need to farm and hunt for a balanced sales diet and there is equal value to both.
Lee’s quote for the day
We had our new Yellow Pages delivered this morning. Hooray! Apparently 550 million of them were delivered in the USA as recently as last year.
The half dozen copies we received, weighing in at 30 lbs, will go directly into our recycle bin. Last fall there were hundreds
delivered to the mail room at our 25 story condo in Toronto. I never saw anyone pick them up and I believe the majority were recycled as well.
So what’s the scoop? Advertising is still being sold aggressively and the book still appears to be pretty thick. I can understand bars, restaurants and the local payphone using them to a point but don’t most people have cell phones with internet access?
Yellow Pages can post big circulation numbers but actual usage? I still occasionally use the online version but I can’t remember the last time I cracked open the actual book. How about you? Is the horse dead or is it just not running at a full gallop? By the way, did you know the reason they are yellow? A hundred years ago the printer ran out of white paper. How’s that for innovation?
As the internet and web continue to revolutionize how we communicate what lies ahead for the good old Yellow Pages. Does anybody out there use them as a reference? If you are still advertising in them can you trace business to it? Love to hear your thoughts.
Lee’s Quote for the Day
“Probably the biggest factor keeping the yellow pages alive is the fear of change and hanging on to the philosophy of “We’ve always done it that way”. It’s sad to see an icon disappear but I guess we will all share a time where we need to quietly ride off into the sunset.”