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If you sit in marketing meetings at Any Company, USA these days, chances are you have heard the term “viral videos” being batted around by erstwhile colleagues as if it is the new “synergize”.  But if you have spent any time watching the most popular viral videos on the interwebs, you might also be wondering what relevance “Gangnam Style” or a talking cat could possibly have in your company’s marketing strategy. Don’t write them off too soon. Successful web–video advertising, blending both the elements of viral video and your marketing message, can be an excellent way to attract people to your product.
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But first, what exactly is a viral video?

We’re so glad you asked. The viral phenomenon – the concept of something other than a biological virus being viral – came into vogue just after the internet became widely popular in the mid-to-late 1990s, and this has become a common way to describe how thoughts, information and trends move into and through a human population. The short answer to your question is: a video that becomes popular through the process of internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email. (Thank you, Wikipedia – read more here).

Many viral videos were not created specifically to entertain millions of people, but because of their peculiar blend of comedy (intentional or otherwise), topical or popular subject matter and sheer luck, they became part of the social lexicon. For example, it is easy to assume that the Numa Numa guy had no idea his webcam would lead him to global fame. But plenty of videos are created by amateurs and specialists alike with the clear intention of becoming viral. Want some examples? You have probably not only seen this poor guy on YouTube, but seen him starring in an eSurance commercial. The writer and filmmaker might be an amateur, but he produced an engaging and hilarious video that has garnered tens of millions of views and thousands of imitators. And if you have not watched the viral video Corning Glass released recently, you should – everyone else has!

Those are great. But what are the key elements of a successful viral video?

Anything that strikes a chord with enough people willing to pass it along to others has the potential to go viral – that’s the easy answer. Can it be distilled into a 100% successful formula? Yes, and no. The most popular viral videos have common characteristics that are hard to ignore…

  • ONE – An easy emotional connection. Provoking a common emotional response plays a central role in any successful mass media product. Hit songs, popular films, memorable commercials, great books: they all provoke an emotional reaction and tie to the consumer. Viral videos are no different. Whether you are shocked, tickled, amazed , touched or frightened, if it gets your heart racing you are more likely to share it with your friends. The most common play for emotion in popular viral videos is by using humor. We recommend that above all else.
  • TWO – A pop culture connection. Ask yourself, what’s big with the kids these days? Maybe it is as esoteric as a My Little Pony revival or as common as a certain Barbadian singer – if you’re not sure, there is always Star Wars.
  • THREE – Piggybacking on an already-established cultural phenomenon is a tried and true way to connect with an audience in everything from stand-up comedy to political speeches and certainly advertising is no exception. Involving real star power, social memes, popular music, current jokes or skewering any of the above with a well-placed parody are great ways to contribute to making your video a viral hit.
  • FOUR – Repeatable stunts. Harlem Shake, anyone? Mentos and Diet Coke? Give viewers something funny or interesting they want to try and film themselves doing, and you have a hit on your hands.
  • FIVE – Simplicity. Keep your ideas succinct and simple so everyone gets it quickly and everyone can understand it. One of the the most popular videos of all time is only six seconds long!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Y73sPHKx

  • SIX – Plagiarism. Copying, one-upping or perfecting established popular videos is an easy way to capitalize on current memes if you prefer not to go out on a limb with your own stunt. This can also be achieved with “response” videos: taping a reaction or criticism of popular videos and linking it to them can get you on the bandwagon. It’s one way to go, although at Evolve Media, we prefer creativity.
  • Great Music!

  • TEN …and Justin Bieber, for some reason. (Evolve Media does not recommend this approach)

How can I make a viral video for my product?

Great question. Anyone in marketing knows that communicating a message that accurately and succinctly describes your business to viewers that are at most only casually interested can be tough.  Companies that sell complex services or complicated products have a greater challenge utilizing a 30-second TV spot – it is easier to express the advantages of soap, for example, than an enterprise software for hotels.  Moreover, it may be effective marketing to have a talking plush toy molest your date on the couch if you are a dating website; but less so to have the same toy attack a group of concerned IT folk over their failing software integration project. A true corporate-sponsored viral video does not necessarily seek to express the company brand, but rather ties the brand to something people actually want to watch. Here are some tips for producing successfully viral product videos:

  1. Go nuts! A viral video can be anything you want it to be. Anything. So don’t waste your time and money filming a live action version of your sales collateral. With rare exceptions (see Corning Glass again), this will result in an uninteresting video. To truly embrace the viral video culture, you need to loosen that tie. Embed your product or message in an unrelated and self-referential world that is designed purely for entertainment.
  2. Amplify accessibility. Uploading your video to every video site under the sun, sharing it with all possible friends and constituents on every social media platform, making it easy to download and view with all players, making it mobile-friendly and emailing it to your Mom are all important. For corporate videos and sponsorships, these are table stakes. If you are investing money in your video and want it to be a hit, it pays to promote it. Don’t just make it easy to find, make it hard to avoid and people will see your message.
  3. Hire an expert. At Evolve Media, we specialize in highly creative videos. We thrive on comedy. We love great music. We are immersed in the world of filmmaking, art, culture and entertainment. This is what we do. Bring us your ideas and let’s have some fun. We can make it happen. Want proof? We were approached by the creator of Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1610527)  and a producer at Goodby Silverstein & Partners.  They wanted Evolve Media to help concept, write, and produce a viral video series for a new App they developed called Ozgood.  These were designed to be viral, entertaining videos that targeted college age male students.  Shortly after releasing them, they were picked up by Will Farrell’s company “Funny or Die” as well as “Ebaums World”.  Due to the success of the videos, there has been movement to develop the concept into a feature film.

 

 

Further articles on this subject we recommend:

AdWeek’s 10 Most Watched ads in April 2013

Fairwaytech.com – Corporate Videos, Boon or Epic Fail?

Rewatchable.com – Viral Corporate Video Done Right

Women In Business – How to Go Viral

Videomaker.com – How To Make A Viral Video

Desktop Video – Making Viral Videos

WestJet has produced two April Fools / Viral Videos over the past couple of years.  What makes these videos effective is that they use their own location and products in order to sell the joke.  We actually get to see the inside of the airport and airplane and it helps to lead the viewer to believe that it should be taken seriously.  Also, the videos do not introduce the absurdity of their concept until later in the videos, so the reveal becomes much more entertaining.

As a company looking to produce a viral video at a reasonable cost, the first question you should ask yourself is “How can I use my product or business to help sell the viral video?”