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Viral Out Of Your Control

If there was a formula which guaranteed a video would to go viral, it’d be worth millions. There isn’t, however, but there are certain factors that can help a video’s chances of being seen on a large scale. Here are a few of those factors, along with some appropriate examples:

Be bad:
Cries of “OMG is this for real?” met Rebecca Black’s single ‘Friday’ as it hit YouTube in early 2011. Its combination of bad lyrics, cheesy video and auto-tuned vocals made this prime fodder to be lapped up by the ‘so bad it’s good’ contingent, as it soon swept through social media channels to achieve 30 million views within a week of release.

Like most successful viral videos, ‘Friday’ soon took on a life of its own, ripe for parody and a constant water-cooler topic. By creating something so outrageously bad, the video’s producers hit upon something that simply had to be talked about, if only for all the wrong reasons. As one Billboard magazine columnist noted: “’Friday’ is something that simply must be seen and heard to be fully appreciated.”

Be confusing:

Comedian George Cottier simply confused people on the way to his 60,000 views over October. His video ‘Top 100 Worst Nazis’ marries authentic and made up names with authentic and made up pictures to create a montage of German officials that could almost be real.

Plenty of people didn’t know what to think of the video, and took to YouTube’s comment sections to express opinions such as: “Te sad uploader of this footage has apparently nothing better to do, or is to simple/minded to create at least a top 100 WITH CORRECT NAMES and relevant pictures. Next, your list is based on? butchers? doctors? get a life .. and you know why.. GeorgeCotterberg.”

For every detractor sharing (and linking to) their outrage, there was a fan calling it “gold” and passing it on to someone with a similar sense of humour. In tandem, the clicks built up.

Be daft:

In 2004, Gary Brolsma set up his webcam and mimed the song Dragostea din tei by Eastern European group O-Zone. He then posted it on Newsgrounds and within four months it had been viewed four million times, picking up the name ‘Numa Numa’ after the song’s chorus. The video of Brolsma dancing is one of the most watched viral videos of all-time, perhaps because it shares a moment people all over the world have enjoyed in private for years.

The same can be said for another hugely-popular video: Star Wars Kid. A high school student recorded himself imitating Darth Maul with a golf club at his school studio and left the tape in, only for a schoolmate to discover it and distribute it digitally. Again, this video makes public something kids all over the world have been doing sicne Star Wars originally hit screens in 1977.

Be cringeworthy:

The difference between the Numa Numa video, Star Wars kid and the ‘It’s Still Real To Me’ wrestling fan is that the former two have a proper charm to them – everyone has danced to songs and acted out films in private. The wrestling fan, however, appeals to a darker curiosity and makes us cringe. People had to see this, even through their fingers.

David Wills attended a wrestling conference with hero wrestler Terry Funk on the panel. From there, Wills asked a question. He later explained: “I choked and started crying and said ‘Thanks, Mr. Funk for saying what needed to be said.’ I was taken a little aback by this myself as I didn’t expect to tear up. I started stammering with nervousness and instead of making a point about the deaths in wrestling what came out was ‘I don’t want to see another one of these.’ I then yelled out ‘It’s still real to me, damn it!’

What goes viral?

Marketing companies the world over would do anything to have a 100 per cent, full-proof way to make their videos go viral. However, while they can never be sure of what will work and what won’t, by being able to relate, and by appealing to our senses of humour, compassion and pity, they can at the very least make an impression on someone.

Personally, I really want this guy to be the next viral superstar…

We’re holding a debate about viral on the 14th November 2011 in Manchester. In the run up to the event we’ve also got a series of guests posts looking at viral marketing. Have a look over at The Feed’s website to find out more about the debate and get tickets.

To find out how PushON research & analysis services can give your company a competitive online edge, simply call 0844 967 0565 or contact us via our form.

  • Laura

    Superb, Michael.
    Would that be ‘top 100 worst Nazis’ – or by definition – would they not be the best Nazis – but – worst human beings? A philosophical quandary! (One hopefully that does not offend too many people).

  • Dave_beck1973

    Interesting article but would have preferred you to have made an attempt to make the connection with brands and companies. Its the age old question, how do you make money from viral marketing? Whilst your article went into the aspects of what makes a succesful viral video, the marketing aspect of it was glossed over.