3 steps to viralizing your content

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When you hear the term "viral video," you probably think of a clip you saw on YouTube, like a dog on a skateboard, a cat playing the piano, or a kid battling himself with a "Star Wars" light-saber. But recently, the web has been full of short, branded "viral" videos from companies like Carl's Jr., Mountain Dew, and Breyer's Ice Cream. 

The term "viral" can mean different things to different people, but for the purposes of this article, we will define it as content that spreads around the web via word of mouth. The format is often a short-form video, but it can also be a widget, a blog entry, or an experiential event that is shared in the online/social media space. 

One of the most famous is the Carl's Jr. Happy Star video, where famous skateboarder Rob Dyrdek shows off some tricks while riding around in a giant plush Carl's Jr. star uniform. At the end of the two-minute video, he slides down a zip-line, slips, and falls from high above the ground onto a concrete floor. We see the puffy Happy Star body suit crumble as he hits the ground, and we wonder whether he survived. The camera shakes as the camera man rushes to save his friend. "Dude... are you alright?" he asks. Finally, Rob emerges from the uniform, unscathed, exclaiming "Dude... Happy Star saved my life." 

"Is it real?" the audience wonders. 

"Will it sell more burgers?" the Carl's Jr. marketing manager wonders.

"Did they really just fake an injury to get attention?" the ad world wonders.

The answer to that question is yes. If the video is watched again slowly at the point where he falls, his legs are like rubber noodles just before the camera cuts away. Clearly, it's a mannequin.

Carl's Jr. spent a fraction of the cost of a regular 30-second spot to create this video. It became a viral sensation in the advertising world, and it resonated with millions of young, hungry males -- the core demographic sought after by the brand. By these measures, the campaign was a success. Which begs the question, why create traditional 30-second spots if you can achieve the same results via an inexpensive, viral video?

Lately, it seems the holy grail in marketing is to develop something viral. Brands ask agencies to do it on a daily basis. While we often think of viral content as short, funny amateur clips on YouTube, savvy marketers have learned that it is possible to consistently create viral content that promotes a brand. 

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it sounds. There are countless tales of companies that received backlash as a result of a viral advertising gone wrong. For example, the Sony PSP campaign that was discovered by its fans to be staged was subject to significant audience backlash. Or, more recently, a series of overtly sexual Burger King ads, which drew the ire of customers and the ad world alike. However, if done correctly, a viral campaign can help brands reach millions of viewers, raise awareness, and drive sales.

While there is no single formula to create a viral video, there are a few rules of the game. As with all good advertising, it starts with the big idea. Next, you insert viral hooks to enable the content to go viral. And finally, you seed the video into the market via websites, social media, and paid media.

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