Viral Videos vs. Viral Campaigns
February 20, 2011 2 Comments
If you work in advertising you’ve probably heard a client say “We want a viral video.” Of course they do. Every one loves viral videos. They love getting them, they love sending them. And brands REALLY love when something they create “goes viral.” Who wouldn’t? Millions of impressions, recommendations by friends, likes, tweets all involving your brand.
But you can’t create a viral video. You can only create great content and hope that people like it enough to share it. Or you can create great content, promote the hell out of it and hope that people like it enough to share it.
Starting to see a theme here?
And that is where I got the title for this post. Far too few people realize that there is a difference between a viral video and a viral campaign.
Let me start with an example of each.
Here is a viral video:
25 million views, entirely through passalong and word-of-mouth. Now it doesn’t hurt that some of that word of mouth was from people like Jimmy Kimmel, Neil Young and Daniel Tosh, but the point remains, no media dollars were spent promoting this video. It achieved those 25 million views on its own.
And here is a viral campaign:
Toyota didn’t just create a video, post it on YouTube, and hope people would spread it. They started with a core insight (“I’m a young parent who needs a minivan but still consider myself cool/hip/fun.”), invested in quality writing and production and then, possibly most important of all, supported the whole campaign with a significant media buy including YouTube and Myspace home page takeovers.
Viral videos are just that. One offs. A video that people like and share. Viral campaigns are just like all good campaign, they start with a great insight about your audience. Then they need to be supported. With investments in production, distribution and PR. If your marketing strategy is “create a low budget ‘YouTube’ style video, hope that people find it and share it and then sit back and rack up the ‘free’ impressions,” you are going to find yourself sorely disappointed with the results.
The content of your video is also a key factor in whether or not people will share it. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most successful online videos contain at least one or two of the following:
- Humor – the stranger or raunchier the better.
- Sex – Either talking about sex, featuring sexy men/women, or both.
- High quality production – Don’t mistake a “low-budget appearance” to mean a low-budget production.
- Celebrities – Say what you will about Kim Kardashian, but she gets the views.
- The extraordinary – feats of amazing strength, physical prowess, abnormalities or the unexplainable.
- People getting hurt – see #1 above.
If you can work these things into your brand message you are one step closer to making a video that people will want to share. Remember people don’t want to share your commercial, they want to share something that they liked, something that entertained them or informed them.
So you’ve made yourself a funny video with a sexy celebrity getting injured. You spent over a million dollars on production. Now what? First off, don’t put that checkbook away yet. You still need to make sure that people see it. This doesn’t mean it has to be on TV, but that rarely hurts.
Start by going social. Put the video on your branded YouTube channel (you do have one of those, right?). Push the video out to all your other social channels (Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, any channel you own where your fans/loyalists spend time) and link back to the official video on your YouTube channel.
Next you need to buy some media. The bigger the better. The YouTube home page, NY Times, it really depends on who your audience is. And I am not talking about a 300×250 flash ad, I’m talking about rich media. One that can play your video (streaming from the official YouTube video) in at least 380p.
Now you are ready for your video to really spread. Once you start to get some traction release the outtakes, the b-roll, and get the celeb to mention it on her next appearance on Conan.
I know, that all sounds expensive. And it is. The less money you have to promote your video the more you need to amp up one (or more) of those elements I listed above. If you can’t afford to buy (or “rent” as Mike Volpe of HubSpot would say) ad space on the NY Times, get coverage IN the NY Times. Make it raunchier, funnier, add sex or injuries or celebrities.
I’m not saying you can never achieve viral success without massive cash investment. It does happen. Just look at BlendTec blenders, makers of the “Will It Blend?” videos. Basic production, no media spend and yet they have scored millions of views. But they use three of my six best practices, humor and the extraordinary and “things” getting hurt (rather than people).
I’ll wrap this up by telling you a story. I was once asked by a client to create a viral campaign for a dental floss product. They didn’t have much money to spend on developing a community or promoting it, they wanted the content to sell itself. I tried to explain to them how difficult that was but they told me to come up with something anyway. One of the ideas I came up with, but never shared with them, was to feature the recently deceased (at the time) David Carradine holding up our competitor’s floss saying “If I’d used [brand X] floss, I’d still be alive.” – if you don’t get it, click here.
Totally inappropriate, crude and insensitive, completely off-brand and just plain offensive. But I promise you, people would have shared that video (or print ad, or whatever it ended up as). And the media would have talked about it. And it would have gotten millions of views (another idea that would have been more appropriate compared dental floss to tiny bikinis, thereby using sex and humor to attract eyeballs).
The bottom line is this, the internet is too crowded to achieve “viral success” just by putting something online. You need to create great content and make sure people see it.
- Ad Age magazine’s Top Viral Video Ad Campaigns
- TOP VIRAL VIDEOS OF THE WEEK: People Love Trick Shots And Christina Aguilera Falling (businessinsider.com)
- This Week In Viral Videos – Lady Gaga, Komodo Dragons & Rear End Cams (socialtimes.com)