The Buzz on Viral Video

Working at a high technology company often requires me to provide very specific, technically-detailed answers.  This is particularly true when a technologist wants information about what they consider the soft field of marketing.  It’s important to answer in their language in order to get your point across.

In a recent meeting about an upcoming marketing campaign, several people asked me how to go about creating a viral video.  We talked about this for awhile but I sensed those in the meeting were looking for more.  Later, back in my office I thought about the elements of a successful viral video.  I thought of the 4 Ps of Marketing and then offered the team a formula for creating viral videos.  My suggestion was:  (.60Product + .10Price) + .10Placement + .20Promotion = Opportunity.

There are all kinds of viral videos, but for purposes of brevity this post looks only at the creation of viral video for B2B and B2C companies.

Product ‑ Delving into the formula, 60% of the effort in creating a viral video should go into creating the Product.  That is the content as well as the production.  It’s critical to keep in mind that a viral video does more than deliver a singular message, it represents the company brand.  There are many creative ways to create viral content, but not all fit well within a brand framework.  Common themes for viral video content often include: humor, surprise, interactivity, and of course sex.

  • Humor:  Everyone enjoys a good laugh and comedy is a frequent component of many successful viral videos.  Of course humor is very subjective and requires a deft touch when used within a corporate brand strategy.  The Mac vs. PC ads went viral because of the passion Mac users have for their computers and the clever use of humor to drive home the message.  Including Brazilian model and actress Gisele Bündchen added to the effectiveness of the spot promoting iMovie capabilities on the Mac.
  • Surprise:  The wow-factor that makes viewers want to share a video with friends and colleagues.  In the interest of fair play, Microsoft scored on the viral video charts with their fake Greatest Slide Stunt Ever video developed for Microsoft Germany.  Who cares if the stunt was fake?  That’s not the point… it’s all about the buzz.
  • Interactivity:  Many sites offer users the ability to dynamically insert pictures or names into an animated presentation for sharing with others ‑ turning themselves into virtual brand ambassadors.  Think Jib-Jab and the famous Elf Yourself campaign.  Office Max’s 2008 holiday promotion proved amazingly popular and was the viral hit of winter 2008.
  • Sex:  It sells, but won’t work for all organizations.  The Carl’s Jr. ads featuring a scantily clad Paris Hilton washing cars while devouring a burger created a lot of buzz, drove million+ web views, and the scorn of many.  What it did for burger sales, I have no idea.

Price ‑ Coupled with Product is the element of Price.  Developing outstanding creative content most often comes with an associated cost.  Producing a viral video may involve an outside creative agency; will require crew, equipment, and other below-the-line costs; and could involve celebrity talent.  A forewarning, in discussing viral video, someone is sure to mention a video created in 10 minutes, without a budget, and using low end equipment.  They’re out there, usually involving animal or pet tricks, cute kids, or a “thank goodness it’s not me” video.  The question you must answer is, would such a video reflect well on the company brand?  In most cases the answer is no.  As the viral video market has matured, you can point to a growing number of successful viral videos that both deliver impact and support brand attributes.

  • Creative Concept:  Viral videos can be conceived internally, or may require hiring an outside agency.  The key is the big idea, something perceived as remarkable and that communicates your message.  Dove’s Self Esteem campaign is one of the most successful web-based viral campaigns.  Web video, combined with a comprehensive website, provides thought-provoking, confidence-building programs and messages that embrace all definitions of beauty.  For Dove, it’s not a product pitch, it’s about brand association.
  • Production Expenses:  Some believe that web video should have a decidedly low-cost look – inaccurately often referred to as a YouTube video.  My suggestion is to push back with reference to more traditional media.  A client would never permit their “official” product brochure to be written by a brilliant technologist from R&D, illustrated by someone’s kid known for drawing nice pictures, and printed on the copier down the hall.  The product brochure is viewed as a key sales tool, and production quality reflects on the product as well as the company brand.  The same holds true for a viral marketing vehicle.  Keep in mind the old adage, “Good, fast, or cheap – pick any two.”  How much time, effort, and money did T-Mobile spend in driving 20M+ web views of their highly choreographed dance number shot at Liverpool Street Station?
  • Celebrity Talent:  A viral video does not require celebrity talent, it’s a tactical decision.  But people are fascinated by celebrities.  There are countless websites devoted to following every aspect of a celebrity’s life and which will embed these videos and help extend the audience.  The cost of using a celebrity can be a major expense item, often beyond available budget.  And to prove that celebrities never go away, much as would like many of them to fade away, advertisers have turned to wrestling icon Rick Flair to WOOO state lottery players with jackpots of mega millions.

OK, it’s entertainment time.  The hottest viral campaign currently running is the Old Spice ads featuring a shirtless Isaiah Mustafa showing off his six pack abs.  The campaign is an excellent example of strong product and illustrates the issues of price as a component in delivering a viral video campaign.

 
Millions of views and major brand buzz

Placement – Viral videos appear in many places on the web.  Each media channel has unique attributes and publishing requirements.  The critical element of placement is less about the channel than it is about how you describe (tag) your video.  Tagging information is the metadata that search engines and viewers use to locate your video.

  • Title & Description:  Your video title and description should be both descriptive and engaging.  Review carefully the visible word count in the description field provided by each media channel.  Then limit the description to the visible information field.  Anything accessible only from the <More Info> section of the description will seldom be seen.
  • Tagging:  Add tags… lots of relevant tags.  The more keywords used to describe your video, the more likely your video will appear within search results and be found.
  • Single Posting:  If the video is part of a series of presentations, each should be posted to a single page with its own title, description, and tagging information.
  • Embedded Links:  These enable other content authors to link directly to your video.  The best example is the use of embed code from YouTube.  (As I did above in posting the Old Spice video.)  Many of the views of your video will be driven by blog posts, included in emails, circulated via Twitter, and on and on.

Promotion – Videos posted to the web with compelling title, interesting descriptions, and rich metadata tags have a head start in the battle for eyeballs.  Promotion takes work and is not an overnight process.  It involves multiple elements and communication tactics.

  • Thumbnail:  The major media channels all show a visual from within the video, along with the title and description.  Unfortunately, each media channel handles this in different and unique ways.  It’s well worth the investment in time to understand the unique way each video sharing site determines the thumbnail image deployed with your video.
  • Channels:  Of course there is YouTube…  and there are other channels as well, Google Video, Yahoo Video, Facebook Video, specific industry websites, and of course your company’s own website.  Publish to as many sites as are relevant and that you can support with follow-up communication.
  • Social Networking:  Create communities of interest for your content and share regularly.  As you befriend more people ask them to invite others to subscribe as well.  Reach out to bloggers and others of influence and allow them to help spread the news.  Send them the embed link along with some unique information (previously unpublished) and you may gain access to an audience you might otherwise not reach.  Promote your video project and keep the video front and center in as many communication opportunities as possible: blog, Tweet, post, comment, email, advertise… above all stay engaged.
  • Bubble Up Ratings: Videos that create a buzz (comments, ratings, views) will move to the top of the search listing.  Ask for comments and respond to those comments.  These actions not only drive views, but move your video higher in the results list.

So that’s my formula for a successful viral video.
(.60Product + .10Price) + .10Placement + .20Promotion = Opportunity.
I would like to hear your thoughts and comments.  What’s been your experience?  Comments welcome.

For more ideas check out the post Make Me a Viral Video and Super-Size It!

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