To go along with our Top 5 Tips for Going Viral, here are our Top 5 Tips for Marketers. If you’re making a viral video for your brand, here are 5 key things you need to know.
Viral video is an amazing tool for marketers. T-Mobile saw a 22% increase in handset sales with their T-Mobile Dance in the U.K. With our videos, Coca-Cola saw a 5% spike in sales of 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke in the U.S. — twice. And Mentos sales went up 15% for the year — three years running. And Blendtec saw sales go up a staggering 700% with their “Will It Blend?” viral video series.
How do you harness the power of viral video for your company? How do you make sure you don’t end up sabotaging the spread of your video with clumsy brand messaging? Check out our top 5 tips, and for a complete look at the four rules for creating contagious content, check out our book, The Viral Video Manifesto.
A few days ago, I watched an online video that blew me away and I immediately wanted to share it with my friends. But I didn’t. How did it move so quickly from being a video I couldn’t wait to tell people about to being a video I didn’t share at all?
Here’s what happened.
On March 8, Justin Fox at Zen Garage, posted the following video with a short summary of the backstory:
Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.
At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.
On March 12, according to a follow-up post by Justin Fox on Spamventdocument.com, in just four days, 5.7 million people had seen the Zen Garage post on Facebook and almost 46,000 people had shared the link. Zen Garage saw a record 300,000 visitors to their web site in one day. And the video now has over 1.5 million views on YouTube.
When I first watched the video after a couple of my friends shared it on Facebook, it jumped out to me as an amazing example of how strong, positive emotion is a trigger for sharing (one of the key principles of The Viral Video Manifesto). There may be a reluctance to share a video that makes you cry — after all, is it nice to make your friends cry, too? But the overall impact here is positive — the swirling emotions of this unexpected reunion of two profoundly connected people is, ultimately, uplifting. That emotion will get people sharing.
Looking at the four rules for viral video, the video scores well: it’s relatively simple and raw (Be True), it’s not overly long (Don’t Waste My Time), the key moment is a great payoff (Be Unforgettable), and pure, unfiltered humanity is the centerpiece of the video (Ultimately, It’s All About Humanity).
So this is a video that was ready to go viral, and Zen Garage gave it just the right set up to get people sharing. I will admit that I am one of the people who teared up watching it, and I was about to share the video with my friends.
But I didn’t.
As I looked further into the story behind the video, I found, for me, a problem.
While the emotion is real, the setup here is… incomplete.
Apparently, the last time Abramovic and Ulay had seen each other was not, as the Zen Garage story makes you think, decades before. It was, in fact, earlier that same day. When asked when the two artists had seen each other most recently, the curator replied:
Marina and Ulay have been in contact sporadically over the years. This past summer, they saw each other for the first time in several years on the occasion of an interview. They met and talked the morning of the opening.
While they didn’t know if Ulay would sit and face Abramovic as part of the performance at the opening, Ulay was a guest of honor there. This was not the complete surprise encounter I thought it was.
So, the way I see it, the story on Zen Garage isn’t true. Discovering that break with Rule One: Be True meant that I wasn’t about to share the video. The artists’ emotion is still beautiful. The moment they share is still powerful. But, after learning the true story, I went from being ready to share to feeling misled. Even though the video is still, in so many ways, amazing, I didn’t want to spread a deception.
The feel-good post on Zen Garage will continue to spread, and it may continue to spread faster than the word that it is misleading. Longterm, will that be good for Zen Garage? Will the surge in traffic be worth a certain level of mistrust?
Looking through the comments on Zen Garage, you can see how many people love this video. And for those who learn the truth, you can see a range of disappointment:
“Wow, that’s sooo not as cool then. I took this as the article suggested-that this was the first time they’d seen each other in decades. Darn.” – Rachel
“It’s a little annoying when folks misrepresent.” – Ruth
“well that’s a big lie.” – David
“I saw this post on Zen Garage and could not share.” – Visions of Arcadia
What was your reaction? Were you ready to share the video after watching it? And are you going to share it now? Where do you draw this line?
This is how fragile the truth can be. And this is how fragile the contagiousness of a video can be. One slight difference, even in how the video is presented, can stop someone from sharing a video. I saw, in myself, the switch get thrown from, “I have to tell my friends about this!” to “What video should I watch next?”
When you create and post your own videos, be aware of just how quickly and easily the contagiousness can be destroyed.
One of the biggest mistakes that skilled, well-intentioned marketers make when creating viral videos is to employ the traditional storytelling methods of television and film. But the Internet isn’t about story, it’s about sideshow.
Viral video is the 21st century sideshow.
Think about it. The most popular videos on YouTube range from the bizarre to the beautiful, and are gritty, weird, wonderful, bold, daring and often unabashedly strange. Whether highly crafted, or spontaneously captured, viral videos give their audience something to gawk at and that same audience will click away the second you lose their interest or waste their time.
Although there are some notable narrative viral videos (they usually involve celebrities), storytelling is a generally a hindrance rather than a help. It wastes valuable time, and distances the viewer from the immediacy and the emotion, making them a whole lot less likely to share your video.
So when creating your content, give us your unforgettable hook and then deliver on it right away. Forget about story. Focus on sideshow.
TNT Benelux (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg) hit it big with A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square (43 million views), which was a featured case study in The Viral Video Manifesto and our pick for the best branded viral video of 2012. Now, TNT Benelux is back with A Dramatic Surprise on an Ice-Cold Day, and unfortunately, it misses the mark in a few important ways. While it still has many things going for it, and it’s generated 6.8 million views, it fails to capture what was so special about its predecessor.
Here are the two videos:
An Ice-Cold Day makes many of the same mistakes T-Mobile made with The T-Mobile Welcome Back (13 million views). Although Welcome Back also had its strengths, it failed to score as high as their previous effort, The T-Mobile Dance (37 million views), because of over-production and subtle aggression toward passersby. For an in-depth case study of The T-Mobile Welcome Back, check out our book, The Viral Video Manifesto.
Now, let’s look at how An Ice-Cold Day compares to A Quiet Square on the four rules.
Rule One: Be True.
Like A Quiet Square, this video is classic Candid Camera. Both videos stage an elaborate scenario to, ideally, delight the people who wander into their traps. While both videos are a bit overproduced, A Quiet Square has fewer camera angles that feel more like hidden cameras, whereas An Ice-Cold Day has cameras that zoom around and make this feel more like a TV commercial. For viral video, simpler is better.
An Ice-Cold Day also has many video effects, like slow-motion and blurred circular frames (as if we’re looking through a gunsight), that, again, makes this more produced and less true. Key to the success of A Quiet Square was that it was TV drama stereotypes recreated in real life with a filming style that remained (mostly) true and unobtrusive. An Ice-Cold Day has TV drama stereotypes seen through a filter of…TV production stereotypes. This overproduction distances us from the action and makes it less involving and consequently less contagious.
Rule Two: Don’t Waste My Time.
No problems here. Like it’s predecessor, it has minimum set up, maximum payoff. It introduces the concept and gets right down to business.
Rule Three: Be Unforgettable.
Here, the video is directly competing with its predecessor. As with all sequels, the pressure is on to top what’s been done before. In general, An Ice-Cold Day is louder but not more satisfying. It has plenty of guns and explosions, but more interesting are the clever twists like the guy descending on wires from above and an Elvis impersonator showing up, guns blazing. Those kinds of surprises are what make both videos unforgettable, and it would have helped if this video had delivered a few more of them.
Rule Four: It’s All About Humanity.
This is where the video falls short in an interesting way. Candid Camera-style videos are at their best when showing us joyful human reactions. It’s active, positive emotions, after all, that are most contagious. But this video is consistently more aggressive and less fun for the participants than the previous video. There’s an important rule in theater: if you get a volunteer up on stage, always treat him or her well. The audience sees the volunteer as their representative. If you are mean to your volunteer, it doesn’t build positive emotion and trust with your audience.
An Ice-Cold Day isn’t so nice to its volunteers.
Sometimes subtle, sometimes not, this is a pervasive and critical failing of the video. It begins by literally putting the volunteers in the crosshairs of a gunsight. That’s representative of the attitude throughout.
The first thing that happens after they choose yellow or blue is someone getting shot right next to them. In A Quiet Square, gunfire doesn’t erupt until 1:09, when everyone is ready for something like that, and even then, it’s less graphic and farther away.
Next, the volunteer is dragged into a van and driven away at top speed. Some people may be okay with that, but it’s a violent thing to do to someone. We wouldn’t blame someone for reacting quite violently in response, and the mere possibility of that violence erodes the trust between the video creators and the audience.
Quite simply, if we are worried about people’s safety, if they look scared, or if we’re wondering why they aren’t freaking out, we’re not smiling. And to get us sharing, you want to get us smiling. This video will make some people smile, but it makes us subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) uncomfortable.
The original video, A Quiet Square, has almost none of these concerns. It is far more considerate to people who press the button, which makes it more fun for people watching and, consequently, more contagious.
So in the end, while A Dramatic Surprise on an Ice-Cold Day has some great moments, its production techniques are more flashy TV-style and less simple Internet-style. That creates an emotional distance. Plus the video consistently has a more aggressive attitude toward the people who push the button. All of this, unfortunately, makes it less contagious than the original, A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square.
With fewer camera angles, simpler production values, and a more considerate attitude focused on bringing out joyful reactions from the people who push the button, A Dramatic Surprise on an Ice-Cold Day could have been a much bigger success.