It's Time To Stop Casually Throwing Around The Word 'Viral'

As brand and agency folk, it’s easy for us to get all doe-eyed at the prospect of that next campaign spreading like wildfire and getting a billion YouTube views. We all have that underlying urge to attain our 15 minutes of Internet fame. We all want to tap into the mysterious power that animals, babies, and Asian pop sensations seem to naturally possess. But we’re missing the point.

When you really deconstruct true viral video, you see that it’s not really a marketers’ game. Fundamentally, most truly viral videos aren’t trying to sell a product, which can be a deterrent for the audience. Most went viral unexpectedly. Most had few, if any, media dollars pumped into them for seeding. It’s difficult to plan viral. It’s difficult to formulate it. And it’s sure as heck difficult to sell a product alongside it.

Where brands set themselves up for failure is trying to plan “viral” content. When a marketing plan contains the word “viral” in it, it’s almost assuredly destined to fall short. The vast majority of videos will never go viral, no matter what the intent. That’s a hard reality to swallow. Our assumption is that we’ve seen those viral videos, we get why they’ve been successful, so we should be able to apply those attributes to create our own sensations. But that’s the first pitfall. The temptation is to mimic or replicate the elements in those video memes that made them successful. But that does not in any way guarantee that level of success. A song produced in the style of the Beatles will never be the Beatles. It might not even hit the Top 200.

The word “viral” should never appear in a creative brief. It’s too lofty and nebulous to take action on. “OK, team -- we need to produce a viral video for the launch of new Cheesy Flakes. But don’t forget to mention that kids AND moms love it. And it’s delicious. And it has 12 essential vitamin and minerals. Oh, and include a link to the site. And to Facebook. And a coupon offer. And show the logo bigger. We want people to see this video and share it with 1,000 of their friends! Cats are all the rage these days, right?”

Instead, let’s look at what we’re really talking about: quality content. Good content, whether it be a short, a commercial, or a long form video -- gets shared. It may not “go viral,”but you can get a lot of organic exposure in addition to your paid exposure.

This epidemic of viral obsession may have something to do with the dismal performance of brand videos to date. After producing that “viral” video, why support it with media? It’ll sell itself, right? Wrong. A report by Pixability that took a look at Interbrand’s Top 100 Global Brands and their performance and common practices on YouTub unearthed an alarming stat: 50% of the videos produced by the Top 100 Global Brands have less than 1,000 views. That’s despite billions of dollars being pumped into video production. That’s finely crafted, very expensive content that no one will ever see.

In the age of social content monetization, the playing field is not level. The next time you watch that “viral” commercial from a brand, take a minute to think about the massive amount of money that was likely spent getting that view count where it is. Don’t assume you can do the same without making the same kind of investment.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for 2014: Let’s focus on the quality of the content. Let’s qualify why a real consumer -- not a marketing professional -- would share it. Let’s deconstruct what makes videos shareable, whether it be humor, emotion, wow-factor, or straight entertainment. Let’s admit that the more we try to hard-sell a product, the less our audience will want to pass that hard sell onto a friend. Let’s be willing to support our videos with paid media, and measure success by percentage of organic reach. Let’s not be one of those cases where tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in production to barely break the 4-digit view barrier. Let’s make better content and support it with media.

Who knows, it might just help you go viral.

1 comment about "It's Time To Stop Casually Throwing Around The Word 'Viral'".
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  1. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, December 23, 2013 at 3:26 p.m.

    I can only hope this article goes viral.

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