Ultra Reality: What would you do in this situation?
This is another great prank from LG, but once again, this one is mean. One of the victims gets quite angry, and I can see why. Being mean is a shortcut to unforgettable, but it also has a cost. The prank is clever and unforgettable, so it will get shared, but pranksters should remember that active, positive emotion is more contagious than negative. When you’re glad you’re not the victim, you’re less likely to share, and when you wish you had been there, you’re more likely to share.
The great film critic Roger Ebert passed away this past week, and several lists of his infamous scathing reviews have been circulating. One of his surprising negative reviews got us thinking about the trap of high production values. Here’s a bit of Ebert’s thumbs down review of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford:
“But unfortunately, this good movie is buried beneath millions of dollars that were spent on ‘production values’ that wreck the show. This is often the fate of movies with actors in the million-dollar class, like Newman. Having invested all that cash in the superstar, the studio gets nervous and decides to spend lots of money to protect its investment.”
After describing scenes that took all sorts of money and effort to film, Ebert continues:
“Director George Roy Hill apparently spent a lot of money to take his company on location for these scenes, and I guess when he got back to Hollywood he couldn’t bear to edit them out of the final version.”
One of the keys to viral video is simple, “low” production values—just press record and do it. Roger Ebert’s review of Butch Cassidy… points out one of the reasons people can be scared of embracing low production values: if you’re spending lots of money on what you think is a great idea, you want to protect your investment by making sure it’s dressed up nicely. That can be a trap in the movies. And for viral video, it’s a particularly dangerous trap.
The desire is strong: let’s get several HD cameras to capture every angle with dolly shots and crane shots; make sure we’ve got the best, most expensive lighting, costumes, and locations; and we’ll definitely spend hours on hair and makeup…
It can take a lot of effort to avoid this trap. You have to keep reminding yourself: let’s use one camera; get rid of that dolly shot; we don’t need a crane shot; let’s get just enough lighting, costuming, hair and makeup so that we look nice but still normal…
Over and over, we’ve seen two reasons for the mistaken use of high production values in viral video:
First, that’s how TV and film do it. Video producers assume that if high production values work there, then that must be what works online. But that’s one of the first and biggest mistakes we dig into in The Viral Video Manifesto. Online video is quite different from TV. On the Internet, simpler is better. High production values get in your way.
Second, if we don’t have a great idea, maybe high production values can make a bad idea look like a great one—or at least make it look like a less bad idea. To that, we say: spend more time developing your idea. Make it great. A viral video should be unforgettable. Take a great idea and capture it on video as simply as possible. Once again, high production values will only get in your way.
Roger Ebert points out a third reason people use unnecessary production values in film and elsewhere: to protect their investment.
We got to see this firsthand when our sponsors brought us to Los Angeles to shoot “The Extreme Sticky Note Experiments.” We didn’t shoot it in our studio in Maine with a single camera and two people, but rather, on a set in the CBS Studios with every resource imaginable and a half dozen actors added to the mix. We also got to see this with “The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car,” which was filmed in a giant blimp hangar in California, with Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) brought in to direct.
With both of these videos, the concepts were strong, and everyone wanted to protect the projects by adding shiny production values. It’s hard to say no to that. It feels safe and smart to use the biggest and the best and the most expensive. But in viral video, you want to let the ideas stand on their own. You want to cut away everything that interferes with the feeling that we are there. Spend your budget on the ideas. Make sure you’ve pushed your concepts all the way to the extreme. Create something extraordinary and unforgettable.
It can be hard to remember that you don’t need all those fancy production values…even when you’ve got Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Trust the idea. Turn the camera on. Just press record. And do it.
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.
Stephen & Fritz are cofounders of EepyBird Studios, the company behind the Coke and Mentos phenomenon and other viral campaigns that have been seen over 150 million times. Viral video specialists since 2006, they... [Read More]
At EepyBird Studios, we've worked with companies like Coca-Cola, OfficeMax, McDonald's, ABC Family, and Blue Man Group to connect those brands with over 150 million viewers. What can we do for you? [Read More]