Understanding Viral Videos

As a business owner, you’ve undoubtedly considered the exposure a viral video could bring your brand… if only you knew how to make a viral video. The good news is you’re in good company as even the so called viral video “experts” are often surprised and perhaps a little confused by which videos take off. Still, even if it’s impossible to predict whether a video will go viral, there are certain things we do know about this medium, and understanding the trends and what’s worked before is a great way to find your own success in this field.

What are the Viral Video Trends?

Comedy

Understanding Viral Videos

Often times when people think of viral videos, something funny is the first thing that comes to mind, and for good reason, as there is no shortage of ridiculous and downright absurd videos which have reached epic proportions.

But, what do want-to-be Jedi masters, a kid riding home from the dentist, a mean kitty, and the myriad of other viral videos all have in common? In short, they are all relatable. What Star Wars fan hasn’t at one point yielded their invisible lightsaber? Or, what parent hasn’t seen their child do something embarrassingly cute? And anyone with a cat understands a feline’s customary peculiar behavior? The only difference is these videos take it to the next level. In other words, people can relate, but at the same time they are enthralled with how outlandish the scenario has become.

Another commonality in popular comedy videos are their frequent references to pop culture. As a whole, Americans are obsessed with pop culture and, again, can relate to most of these references. Even better is when someone “gets” a video and their friends don’t as it makes them part of an inside joke. Of course, the moment is short-lived since pretty soon everyone has heard of it, but that only starts the hunt for the next great video.

Not only do viral videos mock popular culture, but they have become popular culture. So much so now YouTube-esque videos are seen on mainstream TV and sketch-comedy shows. In a twist, entertainers are taking comedy cues from the people instead of the other way around.

Also, with most being less than three minutes, viral comedy videos are incredibly short. They pack in a lot of visual information during a short time frame, which makes it difficult for viewers to look away. Even if a video has a slow start, if it’s only a few minutes, most viewers are willing to stick it out until the punch line (especially if it was recommended by a friend).

Advertising

People’s obsession with viral videos has become so widespread that major companies are turning to internet channels, like YouTube to advertise their brand. Obviously, they’ve paid attention to the power a viral video holds and their trying to harness some of that for their brand. As such, advertisers are creating their own viral videos, and some are using this as their singular marketing strategy — and it’s working! What’s great about these videos is they cost nothing to post and they last indefinitely. So, as long as the video remains online, the campaign will continue, and views will increase. Compare that to a one-time commercial which can cost thousands or millions of dollars and only makes a singular impression (it’s no wonder advertisers are looking to online strategies).

The biggest part to keep in mind when creating a viral advertisement is to keep it funny and lighthearted.  If you make it memorable and funny for the viewer, they are more likely to view and share it several times.  Take for example, the great viral campaigns from Old Spice and Dollar Shave Club.

The challenge for businesses is it to create something people actually want to watch, which, in a way, has put a great deal of control in the hands of consumers. Instead, of ads preaching to viewers about what they need, the consumers decide what’s worth their attention, what is entertaining enough to pass on to their friends, and what achieves viral status. No amount of money can but this exposure; it has to be earned through the people’s approval.

Storytelling

Not all viral videos are created purely for entertainment or advertising; some are made to tell a story, to ignite change, or to encourage discussion. For instance, videos regarding bullying, politics, racial issues, and natural disaster have all gone viral, and in just the past year viewers watched protesters in Zuccotti Park and in Egypt not merely through their TV sets but on the internet and through the lenses of “regular” people.

The best example of a storytelling video going viral is the Kony 2012 campaign.  It had over 60 million views in the first week.  This also a testament to how fast attention to any video can fade, and will fade fast.  While the initial numbers were huge, people soon stopped watching and moved on to the next viral video.

The Art of Viral Videos

Regular people are creating their own mini documentaries too. Armed with only a camera and a mission, folks are highlight issues important to them, raising funds, and making social and political changes. These videos resonate with viewers who appreciate seeing authentic stories from a real, human perspective as opposed to the non-existent or pre-packaged version delivered by traditional media outlets.

People’s acceptance of such videos makes it evident that viral videos don’t have to be funny, and the ability to make an emotional connection is just as powerful as humor.

The Takeaway?

Whether posted by an ordinary person, an advertiser, or political activist, the one overarching theme with all viral videos is relatability. So, if you’re going for the funny approach, make sure viewers can recognize themselves, someone they know, or an element of pop culture in your message. If you want to inspire people, reach out to their human side (everybody has one) and use the form of a story to tell your message.

Also, be aware that consumers have raised the bar for content creators. The masses are now their own videographers and curators, which means businesses have to work even harder to create something attention worthy. Not to mention, people, not companies, are guiding the trends. So, advertisers have to stay vigilant and remain part of the discussion through social media and other channels if they have any hope of providing “in” material or going viral.

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