[PPMA Pulse] The Allure of Viral Videos

Departments - PPMA Pulse

December 21, 2011
Missy Henriksen

No doubt you've experienced a viral video at some point over the past few months. A friend e-mails you a link to a YouTube video suggesting you watch this hilarious, moving, shocking, cute or controversial clip produced and uploaded by a former nobody who is slowly but surely gaining Internet notoriety through an unbelievable number of views. Whether a well produced music video by a privileged California teenager, or a shaky, DIY recording of a father and daughter singing a sweet song caught on their flip cam, successful viral videos are the few that stick out from the millions of others uploaded on a daily basis around the world.

While viral videos have been around since before the launch of YouTube, many brands have just begun getting into the game in the past few years after realizing that if done right, they can duplicate the level of awareness that relatively unknown individuals were achieving through this tactic. If a teenager re-enacting a scene from Star Wars can garner fame and more than 20 million views, surely an established brand can engage with consumers and generate awareness by producing a short online video and hoping it catches on.

The beauty of today's Internet landscape is that anyone, from international consumer brands like Coca-Cola to bored teenagers and proud parents, can shoot and upload a video onto YouTube. However, the challenge lies in the fact that just publishing a video online does not confirm anyone, let alone thousands or even millions of people, will see the video. This begs the question: What makes a video viral and how do I know if it's the right marketing tactic for my business?

What makes it "Viral"? A viral video is, quite simply, one that becomes popular through online sharing via social media, e-mail and video sharing websites like YouTube. It can spread slowly or like wildfire, and may be an amateur clip or professionally produced short sponsored by a major brand.

Keys to Success. While it's nearly impossible to predict whether or not a video will catch on and gain popularity among the online masses, there are several keys to keep in mind when developing a video and working to spread it virally across the web:

  • Define your marketing goals and objectives. As with every marketing strategy, it's more effective to determine exactly what one is trying to achieve before deciding what tactics to employ in order to make it happen. For example, if your goal is to maximize awareness of a new service being offered among your existing customers, perhaps a grassroots campaign centered around a useful video might be a good place to start. Likewise, if your goal is to gain new customers or generate general awareness of your business, you may want to consider traditional tactics like media outreach.
  • Create engaging content. The best branded viral videos feature content that is interesting and conveys the brand's message. Consider the wildly successful Old Spice Man campaign that consisted of a series of viral videos that responded to consumer requests in real time. Not only was the technique novel and fresh, but the content spoke to the product's audience. While it may be tempting to create a video featuring shocking or amusing content, make sure it relates back to the service you are ultimately promoting.

  • Build an audience. It's impossible to share your video online if you don't have a group of consumers assembled who have already expressed interest in your brand or category of service. Take the time to build an online fan base of followers on your social media pages and through your company's customer database. Collect fans, followers and e-mail addresses in order to build a solid base of individuals with whom you'll share your video.

  • Spread the word. Once you've created your video, it's time to make it viral. Upload the video to a popular video-sharing site like YouTube, where it will be easily accessible to the public. Then, share the link through social media and encourage your initial contacts to share it as well. Also, use e-mail and your website in order to drive views. And don't stop there! Reach out to industry publications, blogs and websites you think might be interested in sharing the video in order to send more eyes to the video. If the video is interesting enough, the viral process will begin and the number of views will grow.

Pitfalls to avoid. There are plenty of traps one might fall into when embarking on a viral video campaign. Below are a few of those pitfalls of which to be wary:

  • Don't be a copycat. It can be tempting to try to replicate the success of another brand or individual. Just because a child singing a karaoke version of a popular R&B song has millions of views doesn't mean that same direction will work for you. Don't be lazy. Take time to conceptualize a unique creative direction that works for your brand.
  • Don't promise a million views. One of the riskiest things about creating a viral video is the fact that there is no way to confirm a number of views. Avoid setting yours up to fail by promising a high viewership to your superiors or partners. If all parties are open to the risk, and understand the nature of this tactic, you'll prevent any disappointment or finger pointing if your video doesn't take off.
  • Don't confuse a commercial for a viral video. Sure you can share your advertisements online through social media and e-mails to your client base. Just don't expect a standard television commercial to spread virally when posted online. The best viral videos contain unexpected content that elicits a reaction from viewers.

A viral video can be a useful marketing tool that helps a brand engage with consumers and attract a new audience of potential customers while increasing general awareness of a product or service. Yet, as is true with all new technology fads and techniques, one must do a bit of homework before deciding if it is the right direction in which to turn in order to achieve specific marketing objectives. For every Evolution of Dance video that garners more than 150 million views, there are no doubt millions of other videos wasting away on YouTube with fewer than 100 views.


The author is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. She can be reached at mhenriksen@giemedia.com.