Good grief.  This is one of the best weeks for viral videos since I’ve been writing this weekly Round Up article.  There is so much good content to feature and reverse-engineer that I had a terrible time choosing which viral successes to feature.  Needless to say, the Honorable Mention section will be a bit… expanded today.  Let’s begin:

The Parrot

“Talking Carl” is a mobile phone app featuring an odd animated guy named Carl who parrots everything you say to him (in a slightly higher-pitched voice).  I’ve personally seen this in action on my co-worker’s phone, and while it’s definitely mindless entertainment… it’s pretty hilarious on its own.

But what would happen if you put two phones running “Talking Carl” side by side, and let recursion do its job?  I’ll tell you what happens: one of the funniest videos I’ve seen in a long time.  I love how quickly it devolves into high-pitched shrieks in between strange pauses.  Take a look:

Now, this video was uploaded back in the middle of January 2010, so it’s not exactly the freshest thing I’ve seen.  But what’s great about viral videos is that they can exist online for quite some time before the “viral” action actually begins.  Thanks to YouTube’s slick new interface, I can click on the view count and see some awesome stats—including the fact that the video’s meteoric rise to popularity only started within the last week.

This video gives us another great example of using some pre-existing topic, trend, or product as the basis for your own original content.  “Talking Carl” already exists.  Someone else did the work to conceive of the concept and write the app.  All this video’s creator did was piggyback on that groundwork by tossing in the new wrinkle of pairing “Talking Carl” with a second instance of “Talking Carl.”

Years ago, some college roommates and I attempted a low-tech version of this same idea.  We had one of those cheesy stuffed parrots—you know… you press the button, say something, and the parrot’s beak moves and it repeats what you said.  We put two of them facing each other, and tried to start an endless cycle of repetition.  Unfortunately, because that old toy had a limited amount of time after pushing the button during which it would record audio, we found it nearly impossible to sync everything up right.  We gave up.  I now wish we had been more diligent in our efforts.  In a way, this video represents a long-overdue payoff for me personally, which might explain why I love it so much.

This video required very little work.  In fact, all the creators really needed was that spark of an idea to put two phones together and see what happens.  Who could have guessed it would turn out so silly and humorous?  So simple.  Seems like some of the very best viral videos are the most simple in their conception and execution.

The Short Film

I would be surprised if you haven’t heard of or seen the “video games attack New York City” video, which is actually titled “Pixels”.  It was uploaded only two days ago and has already racked up over a million views—it’s actually currently being featured on the home page as I write this, which means a few more million views are on the way.

The video is a mix of live-action and animation, and essentially tells the story of some classic video game characters busting out of an old television and invading New York City.  Go ahead and watch… you will not be disappointed:

I think my favorite part is either Pac Man in the subway, or Pong destroying the bridge.

The video is a perfect blend of nostalgia, creativity, and filmmaking skill.  And really… anymore… you can’t succeed online with only one of our “viral ingredients”; more and more, it takes a combination of several known viral catalysts.

The creator is clearly a skilled animator, and the integration of the CGI with the live-action footage is fantastic.  And certainly those things alone would be enough to get this video some attention.  But it’s the added nostalgia that comes from featuring classic and beloved video game characters that really pushed this over the top.  There’s a level of charm in the filmmaker’s use of the characters—what he has them all doing in the piece—that makes it darn near impossible to hide a smile.

It’s also worth discussing that this filmmaker was surely motivated not by a desire to attain viral success, but by a creative instinct.  Most of the best viral videos—at least the ones that aren’t from major brands or huge celebrities—start out as something the creator is passionate about.  Both this video and the “Talking Carl” spot above illustrate this point.  When a video’s inception is a conversation that begins with “What can we do to go viral?”, it’s almost like it’s doomed to fail from the start.  Or at least handicapped somehow.

Does Not Compute

One of my personal favorite types of humor is the kind that inspires audiences to wonder what the heck they just saw.  I probably would have been quite the Andy Kaufman fan had I been born a generation earlier.

When a video shows us something that does not compute—usually some amazing ability or an unexpected outcome—its chances of going viral increase exponentially.

Here we have a spin-off of the American Idol franchise—itself a spin-off of a British show—featuring a contestant that doesn’t sound at all like you would expect.  And if you haven’t seen it, I’m just going to let it speak for itself:

Are you not amazed by how much a chubby Taiwanese boy sounds like Whitney Houston?  I’m not sure how you could be anything but in awe.

The video has over a quarter of a million views after only three days online.  It’s real view count is, of course, much higher… there appear to be hundreds of versions of this video on YouTube alone.

So why did it go viral?

Yes, the child has talent, and talent is a known viral ingredient.  But this video didn’t go viral because he can sing… it went viral because if you close your eyes you’ll think you’re listening to the real thing.  At the very least, you won’t think it’s a small boy.  It’s creepy for some, a marvel for others, and a “must-forward” for almost everyone that sees it.  It went viral because it simply does not compute.

In Summary:

People watch online video for hundreds of different reasons, but most of those reasons can be traced back to some basic human entertainment needs:  laughter, shock, and amazement.  There is an entire cupboard of ingredients you can use to create something that elicits such a response, but at the end of the day… if you can’t show them something unbelievable, hilarious, or downright crazy… you’re not going to go viral.

Honorable Mention:

If I’d have had time, I would have loved a chance to discuss the following viral hits as well: