We're back with another look at some of the week's biggest viral hits. As always, we're hoping to learn a little something—some nugget of insight—by reverse engineering what ingredients helped each example video go viral. This week we have a heartstrings-tugging video, another music video that pushes boundaries, and an artistic piece of stop-motion video work. Let's begin, shall we?
Stop-motion videos have graced this column numerous times before. They are typically very clever, and almost always display a great deal of effort and planning. You can also do a lot with stop motion that you simply can't do in real time. Such is the case with our first example this week, entitled Amazing Fire Animation. That's a fairly accurate title, as you can see for yourself:
I'm sure the artist is not the first to incorporate fire into his stop-motion work, but it's the first of its kind that I've come across. Stop motion is, by definition, very time consuming. You have to stop after every frame to manipulate the scene so that, once the scenes are strung together, they have motion. But stop motion with candles is just insane. For nearly every frame of this video, the creator had to blow out some candles and light others—it took him weeks to complete, and I'm guessing he went though several lighters and candles as well.
But the end result really pays off all his hard work. It's quite entertaining, even borderline-beautiful at times. And he threw in enough personality and humor (nice cameo by Pacman) to ensure that this would appeal to the largest audience possible.
When your video demonstrates an obvious amount of effort on your part in creating it, you're endearing yourself to the viewers in a huge way. Just check out the YouTube comments on this video and you'll see a ton of people commenting about how hard it must have been to create and how long it must have taken him. People respect enormous effort—especially when it powers a piece of art or entertainment.
Playing With Time
OK Go is back with another music video. And it's pretty great… again. One part of me is ready to be done featuring OK Go viral videos, because they've already received plenty of acclaim for previous efforts. The other part of me knows that I have to keep writing about OK Go whenever their videos are this good.
Last time, we saw the band create an insane Rube Goldberg machine that ran in real time with the song. It was amazing.
This time, they decided to play around with time. Some sections of the video are sped up to ridiculous degrees (at one point there is 24 hours of video compressed into one half a second). Other sections are slowed way down (as much as 1/32 normal speed). The result is a whacky merge of stop-motion-like work and super slo-mo shots. And it all blends together rather well.
Keep an eye out for the goose, which apparently just started following them around during filming:
One of the main reasons OK Go continues to have viral success is that they continue to reinvent themselves. Not one of their videos has ever been like another. They went from treadmill footwork to Rube Goldberg to speeding up and slowing down time. They're creative… clever… and funny. But they're not trying to piggyback on previous success.
And that is one of the most important lessons you can learn in viral marketing. Yes, imitation videos (or flat-out rip off videos) can and often do succeed. But it's a short term strategy that's doomed to fail eventually. You don't get much leeway with YouTube audiences just because you had a previous hit. OK Go wouldn't get many views at all if their videos were just boring rehashes of the treadmill video, because the short-attention-span Internet would forget them and move on. But taking that charm the band so clearly has in spades and applying it to new creative ideas has proven to be a very successful long-term viral strategy for them.
I just wish I liked their music more, which is not to say that it's bad… it's just not my taste.
It's also worth pointing out that both this viral example and the previous one above are unconventional videos. Neither is just "point a camera at something, film it, and edit it together.” Instead, they're trying to play a bit with the boundaries of the video medium—actually, exactly the kind of "outside the box" thinking that YouTube and the Guggenheim are going for with YouTube Play.
Okay, this final example is going to make some people cry… make others proud… and generally create warm fuzzy feelings for everyone that sees it. It's called Soldiers Surprising Their Loved Ones: PART TWO, and it is precisely what the title implies—a compilation of videos of American soldiers who have returned home unexpectedly and are surprising their loved ones. Take a look:
I'm not sure how I missed PART ONE, which appeared online in February, but it completely slipped past my radar on its way to a couple million views. This sequel is at about half a million after just a week of being online. And it's terribly easy to see why. It's heartwarming. It's emotional. It's patriotic.
And the lesson here is that we shouldn't be afraid of sentimentality in viral efforts. However, I think those are some of the toughest videos to get right. There are so many ways to get a laugh, but so few to bring people to tears (of joy). There's a misconception that only funny videos can go viral. And while I think humor appeals to a broader audience, it's far from the only type of emotional connection people can have to a viral video.
Again, just glance at the comments and you'll see person after person talking about their loved one who is overseas, or how much the video made them cry.
It's important to note that this is a good kind of crying, for the most part. The majority of viewers are crying because they can identify with seeing a loved one after a long absence… or with having a loved one in military service. Thankfully, the video isn't trying to make us depressed or sad—which I think would be an ill-advised viral marketing goal.
Sentimentality scares a lot of online video creators. But it doesn't have to be that way. When the right balance of topic, imagery, and tone are achieved… it can be a very powerful combination indeed.
If I'd had more time, I would love to have also included: