When I wrote my year-end article last December called "Top 9 Lessons Learned From 2009's Viral Video Successes," my #1 lesson was this: "Use Muppets! The Muppets make everything better. If there's any way for you to use Muppets in your viral video without infringing on copyright, I would do it.”
Was I being serious? Not really. It was mostly just an excuse to post the wonderful Muppet version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody” again. Several of my "lessons" from that post were tongue-in-cheek. But that hasn't stopped a street performer from taking my advice seriously and running with it.
One of the week's hottest viral videos so far is a street performance of David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure" (the universe seems to want to keep the band Queen and the Muppets together, I guess). It's an interesting mix of lip-sync and performance, and it's all in the name of raising awareness and funds for the homeless--which is fitting, considering the song's lyrics. Check it out:
Now, I may be biased, because this is one of my personal favorite songs, but I love everything about this video. It's cute and funny, has moments of surprising power, and seems to spring forth from a place of genuine concern for homeless issues.
There has been some concern—and maybe even controversy—that the man in the video was initially pretending to be homeless when he is, in fact, not. And if true, that's maybe a bit of a black eye on an otherwise fantastic piece of online video content—he does sit next to a typical "Family in need" homeless sign for his performance, which gives the impression that he himself is living on the street.
However, the description of the video makes it pretty clear that he isn't trying to trick anyone:
"As I said this is a performance. I don't want there to be any doubts about my situation. I am a performer. I have a roof over my head and I have yet to start my own family. But this video isn't about me. This is for the men, women and children on our streets who don't have bright green puppets on their hands. The people who aren't always as easy to see. This is for you.”
And there's a link to Change.org's End Homelessness page so that viewers who are moved to donate to a homeless nonprofit in their area may do so.
The video has quickly amassed a quarter of a million views in just a few days and is clearly accomplishing its goal of raising awareness.
Is it copyright violation? Probably. Maybe. I don't know, I'm not a legal expert. But it's definitely not officially sanctioned or approved by Disney (who owns the Muppets property). But this is one of those cases where there's virtually no chance of a takedown notice or anything like that—the video has already earned so much praise and goodwill that Disney would look like an evil corporate monster for shutting down the little street performer using Kermit puppets.
Perhaps the most important lesson in this video is related to budget. And by that I mean… this video clearly cost… nothing. Or $15.00 maybe—however much he spent on the yellow poster-board and the two puppets. That's it. No money was spent on costumes, special effects, unique shooting locations, cameo appearances… there was just no cost involved. Which is huge for nonprofits. I'm not sure how many nonprofits you've worked with, but most of them operate at Defcon 3 when it comes to budget—especially during an economy like this one.
So here's a fantastic object lesson for nonprofits--and all businesses, really--on how to use creativity and artistic talent to overcome budget shortcomings and still end up with a highly successful viral video. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record with this, but online video is a level playing field. For every Fortune 500 video that dazzles with celebrity endorsements or computer generated graphics there is a video like this… where a previously unknown little guy earns just as many views on the merit of his talent and ingenuity alone. There is no direct correlation between video budget and ultimate success. Well executed videos showcasing creativity will beat out well-funded boring videos every single time.