Golden Eagle Snatches Kid – Playing a Dangerous Game Exceptionally Well

Buzzfeed just posted a great article about the video Golden Eagle Snatches Kid (42 million views). Here’s our take on how this video got away with breaking the first rule of viral video: Be True.

Golden Eagle Snatches Kid is an unusual viral video because it’s fake. As we say in The Viral Video Manifesto, “Being true is a key part of forging a positive emotional connection with your audience, and that emotional connection helps make your video contagious.” So trying to fake us out is a dangerous game to play — and one that doesn’t work very often.

Fake videos apparently showing Kobe Bryant jumping over a moving car and David Beckham kicking soccer balls into trash cans from impossibly far away only mustered 5.2 million views and 1.8 million views, respectively, despite their impressive star power. The stunts looked fake, were unmasked as fakes, and once you know a video is fake, you’re not likely to share it. No one wants to look stupid in front of their friends by sharing something that’s fake.

So with 42 million views, Golden Eagle Snatches Kid has done exceptionally well for a fake.

Viral video is the twenty-first-century sideshow, and the sideshow does have a long tradition of trickery. But online, you’re trying to fake out the collective intelligence of the Internet. Sometimes, that may not seem like much of an obstacle, but the chances are very good that you’ll be found out, and found out quickly.

And indeed, Golden Eagle Snatches Kid was unmasked soon after it was posted. Certainly, when we first saw it, we thought, “that can’t be real.” A quick search turned up a lot of discussion that it must be fake, and soon after, it was clear: it was fake. Now the video’s YouTube description acknowledges that.

So what helped this unusual video go viral? Looking at how it scores on the four rules for contagious content from The Viral Video Manifesto, we find it does well on a couple of them.

On the first rule, Be True, obviously it strikes out. Although the game itself of, “Is it real or is it fake?” is compelling and jumpstarts many videos like this where it can be hard to know the answer at first glance, that game only works for a little while. Again, once a fake is revealed as a fake, the chances of sharing it with your friends go way down. The video does, however, do a good job of making you wonder, “Could this be real?”

On Rule Two: Don’t Waste My Time, the video does very well. At 59 seconds, it’s tight and efficient. It gives us minimum setup and maximum payoff: a few seconds of the eagle flying so we see what it is, and then bam – it swoops in for the grab. Eagle flies in, eagle grabs kid, guy runs over, kid is okay, slow-motion replay. And done. This is nothing but the money shots.

This video’s biggest strong point is Rule Three: Be Unforgettable. The image of a giant eagle grabbing a kid off the ground is unforgettable and taps into primal fears. And even when you know it’s a fake, it’s not like any other video out there. Whether you think it’s real or know it’s fake, this video definitely provokes the reaction, “I’ve never seen that before!” That’s a huge strength for going viral.

The video does fairly well on Rule Four: Ultimately, It’s All About Humanity. Shot in true viral style, in what looks like one unedited shot on a handheld camera, they did a great job of showing what look like real reactions, from “Oh, shit!” to the baby crying. Although they’re acting, which is a viral video sin (see Rule One: Be True), the reactions are engaging.

In the end, this is a rare exception, a fake video that took off online. It is helped by not being an ad like the Beckham/Pepsi stunt, but instead was made by students. Even when you know it’s a fake, you have to give the students at Centre NAD in Montreal props for making something so memorable.

Despite the success of this video, it’s still a better bet not to try to fake out the Internet. Most viral videos spread because of active, positive emotions like laughter and amazement, and feeling tricked shuts that down.