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
I’ve only been blogging for a couple of months now but I’ve seen the benefits and I’m definitely a believer. Because we track everything we do, we can directly attribute a significant increase in our web rankings on Google to our blog efforts. Jerry, who manages our Web, IT and SEO and Robin who heads up our Promotional Services are also frequent bloggers on our site.
From my perspective, there is no shortage of marketing related topics to write about. I find it somewhat therapeutic as a matter of fact and enjoy putting my digital pen to paper as a regular part of my weekly ritual. At this point, we haven’t seen direct comments in response to our blogs but they are being read and shared. As we gain more experience in this venue and with time, we hope our efforts will be helpful to others and that eventually we’ll get more interaction and collaboration on the various subject areas posted.
This past 4-day week we had two sales leads that materialized as a direct result of our web marketing. One where we weren’t the right solution (company was looking for canned newsletter content) and one that was right up our alley and turned into an appointment. Not all that significant maybe, except that 1 branding/web appointment for us can turn into 20-50,000 dollars of immediate work and a customer for life.
In the B2B environment, I believe getting your web ranking higher organically is (at a minimum) like having another full time sales person on the road and at a fraction (3%) of the cost. Similar to adding a new sales person it takes time to see the results. In this past economy it can be 6-9 months before you see the benefit…but there are soft benefits in the meantime. Now more than ever, the purchasers of your services are forming opinions of your organization based on your presence on the web. Your message needs to be clear; your look professional and when someone searches, ending up on the first page in your category doesn’t hurt.