Whether you're talking about repurposing a 30-second television spot or creating what might best be described as a branded short film, you're going to have to ask yourself one question before putting it out there -- will people like this enough to share it with their friends?
It's a deceptively simple question -- especially after the fact. But unfortunately, teasing out the particulars of why one video set the web on fire and another simply stalled isn't as clear. That's why we've compiled a list of the some best viral videos we've seen lately. Each succeeds for different reasons, but it's our hope that each will both inspire your work and illuminate the intangible qualities that give a video true viral potential.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list -- the internet is kind of a big place -- so please feel free to comment and share some recent videos that made you scream out, "You gotta see this!"
A link to this video has landed in my inbox more than a dozen times in the last month. The reason? It's hilarious. It also have some really nice production value for the film nerds out there. But what's really great about this video is that it hits a gender sweet spot. Obviously, it's a man's product. Yet, Old Spice is aiming its messaging at women -- presumably on the theory that women do most of the shopping in a relationship. But the jokes work for both genders. Male and female friends alike forwarded this ad on. Female friends of mine who don't work in advertising actually talk about the ad. They love it, in fact. I've even had friends whip out their laptops at dinner parties to watch this ad. And guess what -- men laugh just as much as women.
Now, you might think men wouldn't appreciate a brand telling their wives and girlfriends that they need to get a new scent, but that doesn't come across at all. Why? Because the humor in the ad isn't just funny, it's silly. Both men and women can laugh about an intentionally oversimplified analysis of gender relations, and everyone can appreciate a bit of random humor at the end. And by the way, when people talk about it at parties, they tell you, "Just Google Old Spice and horse." How's that for brand awareness?
When your tagline is "made to entertain," you had better do just that.
First, a little background. Once at a conference, I heard an SVP of a major consumer-packaged goods brand tell the audience that her brand was, in fact, an entertainment brand. This was three-and-half years ago. People were talking about ads becoming content, but I, along with most of the audience, thought that particular SVP was, well, a little off her rocker.
After watching this Heineken ad -- or, should I say, short film -- I can say that I was wrong.
At more than five minutes, this campaign would be a lot to summarize, and you really should just watch the film. But after you've watched it the first time, give it another viewing, and then ask yourself: What kind of brand is Heineken? Putting aside the drinkability of the product, I found myself convinced that Heineken was as much an entertainment brand as Disney or NBC. And here's why: Heineken brought every aspect of the entertainment experience to its core audience and to the millions of other people who watched the good-natured ruse unfold. Heineken organized and produced the event, set the tone for the joke, and brought millions of people a really good laugh minutes before a much-anticipated European soccer match.
When I think about what Heineken did here, I think about the smaller-scale stunts, jokes, and pranks my friends and I have played on each other over the years. Usually, when the joke was revealed, we'd all have a beer, just to make sure there were no hard feelings. It's not in the film, but I sure hope Heineken bought those suckers a beer.
When you mention the GEICO insurance brand, chances are you're going to hear an earful about the lizard. Well, this two-minute music video -- sometimes known as the Lizard Ballad -- does feature the brand's well-known mascot. But I would argue that people have been sharing this video for another reason: It features real GEICO employees. Most of it seems to have been filmed in a real GEICO call center, and the actors are just good enough to make it work -- and just amateurish enough to be genuine. Plus, the big reveal -- which might be reason enough to forward this one -- is that Warren Buffet channels his inner rock star for the video. (GEICO is a wholly owned subsidiary of Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway). And even the Lizard has a school play quality to him, with the video featuring a real-life person in a costume rather than computer animation.
Southwest Airlines has been doing a similar thing lately, featuring its ground crew in a lot of videos, which are pretty funny. But one nice thing about this video is that GEICO didn't limit itself to a 30-second spot. That's critical, because if the brand had, this would've been a jingle. But what the company got instead was something closer to Spinal Tap, and that's worth sharing for sure.
One often-overlooked method for achieving viral status is to hit upon a universal theme. That is, express something that everyone knows to be true, but do so in a unique and engaging way. Of course, that's easier said than done. But Sony does a great job of that here by employing sarcasm to maximum effect.
If you know anything about video games, you know that PlayStation's Move is Sony's answer to the Wii. What you might also know is that the PS3 tends to be popular with male gamers, whereas the Wii has made really strong inroads with the female demo. But what's great about this video is that the tongue-and-cheek commentary ("It's also got what we in the future call -- buttons.") pretty much mirrors criticisms leveled at the Wii by the predominantly male PS3 audience. In fact, for a moment, it almost felt to me like I was hanging out with some of my meathead friends and some poor, unsuspecting soul had just asked, "Ever try the Wii?"
Now, I'm not here to praise one gaming system over another, but from a marketing perspective, this video certainly does ring true for PS3 users, and Sony does a nice job of bringing the point home with humor and the use of Kevin Butler, a fictional character who has been featured in a lot of its marketing lately. And that gives this video a nice balance between information and entertainment worth sharing. Not an easy thing to do.
There are no ironclad rules to humor, but if there were, talking babies would probably be one of them. They come about as close to can't-miss as the proverbial pie in the face. Sure, these days that genre is pretty much owned by E*Trade, which has been slaying Super Bowl audiences for a while now. But honestly, a talking baby is pretty fertile ground for humor. "Look Who's Talking," anyone?
That said, my sense is that E*Trade's talking babies aren't as viral as we think. Don't get me wrong, the ads are great (unless you're Lindsay Lohan). But we all saw them on TV, and the internet experience for those ads is basically a rerun (unlike the Old Spice ad, which doesn't seem to have gotten nearly as much TV play and has instead come to most consumers via the web).
What makes this Evian ad worth sharing is that we actually get to see babies do something that 1) we've never seen before and 2) we can hardly believe. And that something is roller skating -- to old-school hip hop. Seriously, it's pretty awesome, and it's little wonder that the video has 12 million YouTube views.
My only complaint? The video could've lasted longer. I'm not saying Evian needed to show a full 14 minutes (the original length of The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight") set to roller-skating babies, but one minute kind of left me wanting more. True, I can always watch it again -- and I did -- but I would've loved to have seen more mind-boggling stunts.
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
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