It's time for our first Viral Video Round Up of 2010. And yes, there are several examples of good and bad viral marketing efforts, despite the New Year being only 8 days old—because viral marketing knows no holidays.
Let's take a look at a few of the best videos of 2010 so far, reverse-engineering them to see what makes them tick.
If you're not a fan of Lost, you might not be as interested in this example as I am. I am a huge fan of Lost, and couldn't be more excited that it's nearly time for the final season to begin. As they did after season 3, the people behind the show have released a video recapping the entirety of Lost's story in 8 minutes and 15 seconds ("815" is one of the recurring mystical numbers on the program).
It's fast-paced, snarky, and packed with humor. The YouTube version has nearly 100,000 views, but it's difficult to track the total exposure of the video because the original version was on ABC's branded video player. However, it's getting tons of publicity from the blogs and entertainment news sites—usually a good sign that a video has gone viral.
What really makes this video a success is how it's able to straddle the line and serve two audiences with the same piece of content. For people new to the show, who might be curious to catch up and see what the fuss is about without sitting through 100+ hours of television, this recap offers the highlights of the show's mythology, characters, and story line. It's actually filled with a ton of detail and would help any newcomer feel a bit less bewildered when the show returns.
At the same time, the video plays entirely different for existing fans. The narration, combined with the editing, make this an 8-minute-long inside joke for fans of Lost, and provide a great many laughs. And what's more, neither audience is able to experience the video the way the others can—it'd be like trying to watch The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense for the first time again, forgetting what you already know.
Creating a piece of content that hits two different audiences in completely different ways is far from easy, but is a powerful catalyst for viral success. Pixar seems to have mastered this skill, with their movies that enthrall kids and adults alike but in different ways. It's really tough to do well. So it's not as though I'm suggesting that you set out to create something intentionally bipolar. However, the very notion of a "recap" has this kind of multiple-audience appeal built in should you wish to take advantage of it.
Try recapping the 2009 year for your business… or some sort of public event or trade show you attended. Already-established customers will appreciate some of the inside jokes you're able to throw into the mix, while the uninitiated will get a good glimpse at what your business (and your business' personality) is all about.
The Homemade Contraption
I saw a video the other day where a guy had hand-crafted a combination lock from wood, and then used that wooden lock to illustrate how that type of lock works. You can see that video here.
YouTube videos of homemade contraptions are an emerging sub-genre of viral marketing. The best of the bunch will then use that contraption for some other purpose—other than simply "Hey, you… marvel at my craftsmanship.” (The lock video is the perfect example of this).
In "The Most Useless Machine EVER!," the end goal appears to be a laugh. This fellow has built a machine whose only purpose is to turn itself off. Go ahead… watch it:
Now, clearly this fellow spent hours, if not longer, designing and building this machine—this physical representation of an oxymoron. All to make us laugh. I can get behind that. And it's so much more attractive a piece of entertainment than some guy's face as he tells jokes, you know? (Personally, this video gets funnier and funnier the more I watch it).
I honestly have no idea if there's any business agenda behind this video or not—he could certainly start selling these things online without much problem, I would imagine. You can also learn how to make it yourself here.
But we're just trying to see what made this video popular, right? He could simply have written an article about a fictional machine that turns itself off. Depending on his writing skill… that could have been a popular blog post. But instead… he decided to actually build it, which provides a much more lasting impression in the viewer's mind. Sometimes it's not enough to simply be funny without also being memorable. Humor is one of the most powerful viral magnets in the world, but the real lesson of this example is that sometimes… delivering your humor in a creative way can help you rise above the pack.
The fellow in our final viral example was dating a weatherperson who works on the Weather Channel, and decided a little live on-air proposal was in order. In the middle of her forecast, romantic music starts playing as he comes on camera. He gives a brief declaration of love and then proposes, and she tearfully accepts—you can even hear the Weather Channel staffers cheering off in the distance.
Watch it yourself:
Now, not all of us have the strings to pull to get our romantic proposal broadcast on live national television—of course, it might have been tougher for him to get permission if anyone actually watched the Weather Channel. Zing! (I kid, I kid).
Nearly half a million people have enjoyed sharing this moment, just over a week after the video was uploaded. So what helped drive those views?
Well, first of all, it is a widely known truth that nothing tugs at the heartstrings like a sappy marriage proposal. But I think a video like this needs something more than just a creative proposal—it needs authenticity… a genuine feel that cannot be faked. It's the same thing that makes a wedding good or bad—surely you've all been to one of those weddings where the happy couple was just so in love that everyone around you got the warm fuzzies. A video like this needs that same kind of element. Now, I'm not saying everyone will get the warm fuzzies from this thing… but there's an undeniable authenticity to the proposal and reaction, which instantly puts to death our near-instant impulse to suspect something as fake.
If you're going to propose soon… get it on tape. Maybe your fiancé will give you permission to post it on YouTube, and maybe she won't. But you can't get it to go viral if you don't film it to begin with. In a more general lesson, strive for authenticity in your viral efforts… it'll go a long way. (Hint: authenticity is best achieved when you're not trying to fake things).
- Everyone wanted to make fun of this less-than-enthusiastic Boise State University cowbell player… until it came out that she's blind. Oops. Man, can you believe that the Internet got ahead of itself before it knew the whole story?! Me neither.
- Google put out their own twist on the standard Apple commercial (white background, minimal or no voice-over, hip music) for their new Nexus 1. I already wanted one before I saw the video, but it definitely increased my interest. I am ready, though, for some gadget commercials that break free of this mold.
- Finally, Mariah Carey and Kathy Griffin both had some trouble with live broadcasts recently. And when celebrity shame finds its way online, it's comedy gold for the masses. It is never a good idea to intentionally do something scandalous… but if you do, you should definitely capitalize on the viral nature of that video.