I had to take last week off from the Viral Video Round Up series, because I was working on a pretty cool interview I hope to be able to share with you soon.  But this week we’re back, with another week that’s just filled to the brim with viral successes.  As always, the goal is to see if we can find something about every successful viral video that we can learn from… some step we can try to imitate or recreate or use as inspiration.  There will always be a certain amount of luck involved with going viral, but we can make a bit of our own luck by including some of the most common ingredients found in hit videos.

Let’s get to it.

Right Place, Right Time

Sometimes I see a video that boggles the mind with just its timing.  Like that “whale jumps onto a boat” story everyone’s talking about this week… how did that photographer know to have his camera pointed at that boat at just that time?  The answer, of course, is that he didn’t know to do it.  He got lucky.

And a couple of viral hits from this week were from videographers who also got lucky.  The first example is the UFO over China, which I believe has since been explained as a non-alien rocket or something.  But the video is still pretty creepy, and you can see why some citizens might have freaked out a bit upon seeing this.

Seeing an unidentified flying object in person?  Awesome.  Having your video camera with you when you do?  Priceless.

It’s easy to see why this video went viral, as the flying object looks nothing like an airplane.  I’ve certainly never seen anything like that in the sky.  Controversy sells on YouTube, and the “is it or is it not a spacecraft” debate raged on for the better part of a week.

There was a second video this week that went viral that also required its maker to simply be in the right place at the right time.  This time, it involves fireworks at a minor league baseball game:

I cannot imagine what my reaction would have been in this situation, but I can promise it would have been more than a few utterances of “Oh No,” and might even have been the blood-curdling scream of a little girl.  There is no way the cameraman knows what’s coming, obviously.  Fireworks accidents are very rarely planned and pre-announced.  Instead, he was filming one thing—a fireworks show—when an entirely different thing—a fireworks accident—happened unexpectedly.

The video went viral, as many do, because it offered something almost none of us had ever seen before in person or on film. There’s virtually no way to plan for this kind of thing.  All you can really do is keep some kind of video recording device on your person at all times and hope for crazy things to happen when you’re around.  Thankfully, with Flip cameras and cell phones, it’s becoming easier and easier to have a video camera at the ready.

I’m not sure there’s a sensible business-video lesson in here, since neither of these videos were commercial in their intent.  But I do have an axiom for you: You can only film things that occur when you have a video camera with you.

The Spoof

Old Spice Man is still getting accolades and compliments for his commercials and for last week’s social media explosion, and rightfully so.  I’ve written at least two articles about it myself.

Lost in the coverage of all of his personalized videos was a little parody film created by the students of BYU.  If you’ve seen the Old Spice Man commercials, you know everything you need to know going into this:

Man, that video is so good!  I’ll admit that before I clicked through to watch that, I read something along the lines of “college students make parody of Old Spice Man, and it’s actually good!”  And I didn’t remotely believe that was going to be true.  But it was.

The parody hits on all cylinders:  the actor does a great job mimicking the real Old Spice Man’s vocal tone and inflection.  There’s a lot of impressive set and prop changes, all done in that one-take tradition of the original commercials.  And best of all… it’s weird and funny and filled with the unexpected, just like the spots it is spoofing.  Oh, and it’s message highlighting the many benefits of the university’s library, isn’t lost in the parody at all, and comes through loud and clear—bonus points for that.

Parody is still one of the most bankable types of viral video out there.  If you act quickly, and strike while the original is still popular, your parody will have a much higher chance of going viral than the videos it competes against.  Of course, you can make a horrible parody, and shoot yourself in the foot.  But if your imitation is pinpoint enough, and your execution top notch, your parody video could do what this one did:  reach 1.5 million views in just about a week.  Not too shabby.

The Prank

I’m constantly going back and forth on prank videos.  On the one hand, I think they can be extremely clever, humorous, and entertaining.  On the other hand, it’s a slippery slope, and they often devolve into the kind of humor I find unappealing, where the prankster behave in a way that is downright mean-spirited or unethical in order to trick the unsuspecting victim.  Those kind of videos are much less fun for me to watch.

But there’s something whimsical about this week’s final example, which is a movie theater prank:

Just a pretty straightforward prank involving the blocking of someone’s view of the movie they’re trying to watch.  But it’s the use of the giraffe costume that pushes this from mean into the realm of the absurd.  I’m not 100% sure, but I think I might laugh at a video of a man in a giraffe costume doing just about anything.

It’s a little mean when the poor viewer moves seats, only to have the giraffe move in front of him again.  But just a tad.  By that point, the customer has to know he’s the victim of a prank video.  Heck, he probably got some free tickets or something out of it.

It’s easy to see why this went viral, and it has everything to do with humor.  Again, there are plenty of prank videos that do not go viral.  Typically it’s because they’re just not that funny.  Or they’re too mean.  Or the prank doesn’t translate well to film.  This giraffe variety has humor, both in the costume as well as the execution of the prank.  It’s short, simple, and easy to understand.  The humor of the prank is universal, transcending language barriers and cultural differences.

I’m also mildly fascinated by the courage of this prankster to turn on a video camera inside a movie theater that’s playing a brand new movie (Despicable Me, from the looks of it).  That’s a serious offense in most countries.  The consequences for being caught filming a movie screen would seem to far outweigh the benefits of getting a bunch of views on your viral offering.

Regardless, this video has over half a million views in just over a week, which means that enough viewers found humor in this prank to help propel it to viral status.  I would suggest you be wary of people in giraffe costumes from now on, but that kind of should have already been a rule, no?

Honorable Mention:

If I had more time, I would have also talked about:

  • This video of a parasailing-donkey prank in Russia that has now become an animal cruelty investigation (with good reason)
  • This parody of Steve Jobs iPhone 4 antenna-related press conference (foul language warning), which is hilarious.
  • This video of the most enthusiastic DJ in the history of the world.  I know it’s weird, but for some odd reason this is my favorite video in weeks, and I can’t stop smiling at it.  This is exactly what I would expect to see if Dustin Hoffman took drugs and then became a DJ.