I should be in Las Vegas right now for the Blogworld 2010 conference, hanging out with Mark and interviewing all sorts of creative people in the world of new media. I'm not, though, thanks to an old friend called pneumonia. I've been out of it for several days.
But now that I'm feeling a bit better, I've been checking out some of the most popular viral videos from the week. And as usual, I wanted to share some of my favorites and talk briefly about what we might learn from them.
The Professional Parody
I love a good parody video—when it's done right. And when it's done right, it doesn't even have to be the first one in order to be funny. Case in point: remember the BYU parody of Old Spice Man promoting their on-campus library? It was excellent. And while there have been many other parodies of Old Spice Man, you might think there's a minimum chance for one to succeed on so many levels as BYU's—both in terms of quality and view-count. But you'd be wrong. Because Sesame Street decided to get in on the action, and the results are pretty hilarious:
See, that is every bit as fun and funny as the BYU video, and it's got twice as many views (in just seven days). The lesson is: the subject of your parody doesn't need to be original or even recent for you to succeed. Parody is one of the most tried and tested forms of comedy there is, and a lot of businesses and individuals are finding success with it.
The key with a good spoof is to find that line between imitation of the original and variations on its patterns. The Sesame Street video follows the same basic framework of the set changes and speech pattern, but throws in its own variations on the original. Meshing your voice and style with the thing you're parodying is crucial. It can bring in viewers from two separate audiences—fans of the original piece and fans of your own work. It might take a few tries to find the right balance. But once you do, you have a huge head start on going viral.
The Good Deed
Last week there was a great deal of hubbub made when Johnny Depp made a surprise appearance in a school while dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow. With good reason. There was apparently a little girl there who had written him a letter, requesting his help to mutiny over her teacher. I'm sure his visit meant the world to her—and the rest of the kids in the class—and Mr. Depp continues to rack up a fine resume of good deeds like this:
But there's another beneficiary from this video's millions of views (there are several instances of this clip across multiple platforms, but this one has over 2 million views on its own). And it's Disney. Now, I'm not sure if Johnny Depp is the kind of star who can just waltz off set in full costume whenever he wants with a couple of extras in tow… or if he got permission from the film studio (Disney) to do so. But it almost doesn't matter. Disney benefits enormously either way. You can't buy this kind of publicity, but even if you could they just saved millions.
Depp's intentions are purely noble, I'm sure, just based on his reputation alone. But you can't tell me someone at the studio didn't see the marketing upside here for the upcoming fourth edition of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. So everybody wins here.
And this is why major brands love viral video. Because they can very often score very high on the buzz and awareness scale while spending very little money on production or distribution. And a good deed can sometimes be both a good deed and a great promotion all in one.
What Did I Just See?
Sometimes a video is so unique and unexpected that the "what did I just watch" factor alone can take it to viral heights. Such is the case with this final example, a video of a young lady who uses her make-up talents to transform herself into actor Jared Leto right before our eyes. If that sounds strange, well… I understand. But I'm also pretty sure you'll find yourself somewhere between amazed and freaked out after watching it:
Now, there's very clearly some talent here. A lot of the make-up work is shadowing, which helps her nail down Leto's bone structure and features. That's not easy to do.
But the real reason this video went viral is just the strangeness of it all. How did she discover this very specific talent? Who would even think to attempt this in the first place? And yet… there's no denying how much she ends up looking like Jared Leto. It's almost as creepy as it is impressive.
If you have a unique talent—especially something odd or unique, something most people have never seen before—you might consider taking advantage of it. Or, if you're a business, consider finding such a singularly talented individual and hiring them to star in your online video. Think about it… this video could easily have been "brought to you by" a salon or top brand of make-up products, and it still would have gone just as viral.
The more you can amaze the audience… the more you can unsettle them with the unexpected… the better your chances that they'll find your video worth sharing and start the viral snowball rolling.
If I had more time, and less pneumonia, I would have also talked about:
- This UFO video from China—UFO videos almost always find some measure of viral success.
- The special opening credits sequence for the Simpson's created by anonymous street artist, Banksy—it was kind of amazing… and wrong.
- The return of everyone's favorite belly-flopping corgi.
- This freaking awesome cat that doesn't want his owner to turn out the lights.