What Is Viral: My Thoughts

This was going to be called ‘The War On Viral – AKA stop using that bloody word’, but I refrained because a.) I’ve become a little more SEO conscious recently and b.) the apparent negative slant to the afore mentioned title does not give precedence to genuine viral content, and runs the risk of detracting from it.

And please don’t get me wrong – I LOVE viral content. For one thing it truly epitomises what is awesome about online culture and perfectly exemplifies, in a way, how much we love weird shit.

Excuse my french.

My problem lies in the intention behind viral content.

Let me explain.

As I have used this example before, I see no reason to not use it again. Although it might be considered bad practice to re-use examples, this perfectly makes my point. Video in the break (pretty sure you’ll recognise it)

The old classic. For many this was the beginning of online marketing (or at least it was a wake up to brands that online activity could seriously damage their brand). While other videos have gone more viral in its stead, it still set the precedent – and for me at least is an example of the pure form.

United breaks guitars was not created for hits. It was simply the response from a pissed off customer to a complete lack of customer service and care from a huge airline (they subsequently got fu**ed I believe, although this was only one of the reasons – don’t quote me on this)

And that is my problem – now days people are spouting BS, promising viral content, providing viral video as a service and generally completely missing the point.

Viral is a description of a state, not a service.

I’ve seen a fair few blogs that have echoed this point – You cannot make a viral video, you can only make a shareable video. Whether it goes viral or not it completely and utterly down to the audience which consumes it.

This is certainly worth thinking about. There is probably a loose formula which can make a video more shareable than others, and therefore more likely to go viral, but there is not a magic formula for viral content.

for example, a recent Techmap event saw Mike Williams from Isobar talk about digital planning. He talked about the concept of disruption; that campaigns needed to disrupt a persons view of the world to make a lasting impact. I will talk more about this idea in a subsequent blog post, but the point I am trying to make it that Mike was looking at how to navigate human psychology to make digital campaigns more effective. Unlocking the code to Viral behavior/exposure.

Perhaps a more salient example of this is the famous CVIV from the ‘comms anarchist’ himself, Mr Graeme Anthony. Graeme was completing a move from Manchester, where he had been a successful PR professional, to London, where he hadn’t. Wrestling with a changing world and difficult job market, Graeme thought outside the box to get employment. But he didn’t stop there…

He thought outside the stratosphere.

Graeme took a tired format, and added new media. He combined new tech with old ideas and came up with a fresh and exciting permutation on how to sell yourself.

If I had more to my CV than intern experience I would have followed suit.

You can read over at Graeme’s blog about the aftermath of this incredible spark of genius, but if you don’t have the time to click (I appreciate this is already quite a long piece) then I shall pick out the most important bit in the context of the viral discussion. The @wearesocial crew asked Graeme if they could publish the CVIV to the world. 2 hours later and after a flurry of Twitter and email activity, Graeme emailed Robin Grant to see what the hell was up.

A simple response was received: ‘you’re going viral’

And this is my point. Graeme never intended for his video to even be shared, let alone hit the viral mark. Now you can ask anyone in PR or digital media who has half a head screwed on and mention the CVIV and they will glow in recognition of this incredible effort by Graeme, and how it really gave a breath of fresh air to a tired concept.

Viral video cannot be enforced. Viral video can only be created through mass consumption. A video maker cannot produce mass consumption, and so must rely on making the video as consumable as possible.

Quite often viral video is unexpected. It is borne of creative professionals who like to think outside the box, and who know the idea will resonate, but don’t see the degree to which this will happen before it does.

So next time someone pitches you the creation of a viral product, be it a video, an app, or a game, just stop them in their tracks and ask them how.

Because as they say, the pudding is in the eating…

And if you have made it this far, I shall treat you with one of the greatest viral hits of them all, starring Will Farrel no less in… The Landlord.

I think over 70 MILLION views pretty much equals viral…

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Youtube, Footlocker and More Viral Campaigns

Before I start, I understand that it is a little rich labeling any video on youtube as automatically ‘viral’. Linking Youtube and ‘viral’ video culture is more a meta-commentary on the format of youtube and the history of viral videos, which have often been originally hosted on or have ended up at Youtube (remember some of the first viral videos were decidedly ‘gonzo’ in style, which Youtube with its largely amateur videographer user base lends its self perfectly to). Initially ‘Viral’ was a term used to highlight the ‘virus-like’ spread of a video (or other media form), but now there is a clear ‘viral’ element to some videos and campaigns, especially considering that there are marketing and communication companies who are purposely attempting to exploit the phenomenon of viral media. This is no secret, they make no attempt to hide it, and so in this respect a video can have ‘viral’ elements just as a documentary has certain documentary elements. Whether these videos do in fact become ‘viral’ or not is another question all together, and one that is hard to answer considering the various and wildly varying ideas on what constitutes ‘viral’ exposure.

Now, unless you have been living under a rock for the past 3 months, you will probably know about the Old Spice Guy (hereafter OSG) in some form or another. The basic premise was an interactive ‘conversation’ between the old spice guy and the youtube audience at large. The result? a gargantuan beast of a social media campaign which resulted in around 1.4bn campaign impressions and 40m video views within one week of the original ad going live. Not only that but Old Spice sales are up 27% since the campaign launched, and 107% in the last month alone. Considering the cost of filming a good-looking, ripped & half naked black guy in-front of a green screen can’t be that huge, we’re talking serious ROI for Old Spice, and the potential for huge investment into the digital and social media marketing world – everyone wants to do what Old Spice did.

Frankly these lofty aspirations are unrealistic. It really is once in a blue moon that seriously good creativity and business acumen meet in the right place, and even if those two are present the market needs to be ready for it. There is a certain ‘decompression’ after a campaign such as that. People simply wont respond in the same way over and over, there needs to be a cooling off period.

Thats not to say there is no point, just don’t go thinking that you have the next Old Spice tucked up your sleeve, or that the digital agency you just went to has either.

Onto Footlocker. ‘It’s a sneaker thing’ is the clever hook attached to the current Footlocker campaign which has been rolling out across the internet and TV screens for some time now. A recent development has seen a collaboration between Footlocker and Youtube celebs ShayCarl, KassemG and Bret the Intern; two teams under Kassem and Shay fight it out in a food fight to the death in an otherwise deserted high school cafeteria.

The Footlocker element is brought in with some clever vary-focal camera shots of a hall full of brand new sneakers and the use of sandwich bags to protect these nice new sneakers from the ensuing mess – all of which are put on AFTER the ‘foodfight’ shout. Check the video’s below:

And the voting video:

Shay Carl and Kassem G alone have a combined subscribership of around 1.6m viewers. Unlike the Old Spice advert, however, these viewers are already invested in the institutions of Shay or Kassem (or like me both). There is a whole community built around them already. With Old Spice we saw a new face who could engage the entire Youtube audience without your having to belong to a subculture first. The interactive element, also, is lacking a certain focus which the Old Spice campaign had (and was arguably the thing which stimulated the most on and offline word of mouth). In this we get to vote for the winner, as opposed to being able to actually interact with OSG. For these reasons, this campaign is unlikely to reach the proportions of Old Spice.

I can’t decide if this is clever marketing or not. The audience is fairly limited, but it still can’t have cost much to do which makes ROI a much easier figure to achieve. As I said, the OSG’s magic was his novelty and fresh faces always make more impact. I’ll be interested to see how this drives sales to Footlocker. It is, however, evidence of companies seriously looking for new ways of promoting their products, which is a good thing for the digital marketing industry. Whether they are all getting it right or not is something we shall have to wait and see.

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