Every week I scour the web, searching for the most popular viral videos. And because of this weekly Viral Video Lessons Round Up column, I get to claim that it's all in the name of work. Outstanding. This week saw some fine examples of viral success, some from brands and some from unknowns—which is how it should be, really, if you ask me. So, let's take a look at a few examples of the best that the viral community had to offer this week, to see if we can pinpoint some of the reasons for their popularity.
There's a fine line between parody and homage. It's tricky to show affection and respect for something you're also making fun of. But when it's done right, it can take things to another level.
Enter this week's first example, from comedian Wayne Brady. It's a remake-of-sorts of the music video for Bobby Brown's Every Little Step I Take, only with Wayne Brady and Mike Tyson in the leading roles… singing and dancing. It's from Funny or Die, and in two days has nearly 1.4 million views. Take a look and you'll see why:
See, there's something inexplicably enjoyable about seeing Mike Tyson try and pull off mid-90's dance moves while lip-syncing to Bobby Brown. I would probably not have predicted it would be funny, but it's pretty hilarious. And in terms of parody, it's pretty spot-on, as you can see by taking a look at the original:
And yet there's clearly some homage being paid here on the part of Brady. His parody isn't suggesting Bobby Brown's song sucks—quite the opposite, really. If you read between the lines, there's a good deal of respect for the song's place in pop-culture history. I doubt very seriously that Bobby Brown could watch this and be offended.
But it's the flat-out hilarity of seeing Tyson's bulky body trying to pull off rapid-fire hip-hop moves that made this video go viral. And while most of us won't be able to land the former heavyweight champ as the star of our next video offering, we can definitely learn some lessons about the delicate balance between parody and homage. And finding that balance can lead to the sweet spot for viral videos where the audience size is exponentially increased.
The Shock Ad
A new PSA from Precinct Studios is making the rounds this week, and it's riling a lot of people up due to its controversial nature. The spot very overtly—and perhaps, not logically—equates feeding fast-food to children with giving them heroin. And while the analogy is certainly a reach, there's no denying that the spot grabs your attention and hammers home its point. And now you see why we have a controversy. Which is, of course, exactly what the makers of this video were going for. In fact, the more controversial the spot, the more coverage and media attention the firm—and by extension their message—receives.
Controversy is a time-tested method of securing viral success. Polarizing the audience into two groups—those offended and those who aren't—can double the size of your potential audience, as both groups forward the video to their peers looking for confirmation of their reaction.
But it's one of the trickiest and most dangerous styles of videos to create, because the line you need to walk is so fine. Successful controversy videos have to be offensive to some, but not to all. If you tick off everyone, and all viewers think your clip is a moral outrage, then there's no more debate on whether you're a saint or a dirt-bag. And that debate is what drives users to share your video through social media. It's a bit like shooting down the Death Star—your aim needs to be pinpoint-accurate; even a slight miss could cripple your campaign.
Tread carefully in these waters, because your original message can also get lost in the controversy, even after millions of views. Is childhood obesity a serious problem? Absolutely. But are there possible allies in the fight against that issue that might be disinclined to join up with Precinct Studios because the PSA left a bad taste in their mouth? You better believe it.
But there is no way around the fact that controversy can drive views—that's why political content is so popular online, by the way, because there are always two polar-opposite groups ready and standing by to either support or attack you as soon as its published.
I'm a pretty big fan of AMC's original programming—Breaking Bad and Mad Men are both fantastic shows. Their new show this fall is called The Walking Dead, and is based on a beloved graphic novel about a zombie apocalypse. Because of AMC's track record, and because Hollywood director Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption) is directing the pilot and shepherding the project, my hopes are pretty high.
As we get closer to the show's Halloween debut, the buzz is beginning to build. And where there is buzz about a piece of pop culture entertainment, you will almost always find fan films (or at least fan fiction).
Enter Vimeo user Daniel M. Kanemoto—obviously a fan of the original Walking Dead graphic novel—who has created his own vision for what the show's opening title sequence should be that is so fantastic that major players in the entertainment industry are taking notice. In fact, as the Executive Producer of Lost, Damon Lindelof, wrote on Twitter: "We are arriving at that unique moment in time where the term 'fan-made' becomes moot. This is extraordinary.”
Exactly. Take a look for yourself, and I dare you to tell me that it looks anything less than 100% professional—there's not even a hint of amateurism in this film:
You could have told me this was the official title sequence and I not only would have believed you, I would have thought it was tremendous. But to know that this is the work of just a fan? I'm blown away. And AMC had better hope that the actual "real" title sequence they've cooked up for the show is great as well, or fans will clamor for them to use this one instead—many fans are already doing this, actually. But I'm pretty sure AMC will stick with their own plans—the title sequences for Mad Men and Breaking Bad are both considered among the best on television, so I'm sure the official credits will be awesome as well.
But it's amazing to see how narrow the gap can become between amateur filmmakers and professionals. Are most amateurs this good? Certainly not. But they're getting better every day. The day is fast approaching when you won't be able to tell the difference, and that's a good thing.
And the lessons? Well, never underestimate the power of hard work in the world of viral video. When an amateur can create something of quality, without the budget and resources of a major brand, the audience sees it and appreciates the gargantuan effort that was involved. And that buys an awful lot of goodwill with viral audiences.
Also, it's important to remember how much of a boost your video can receive when the topic is something already high on the public's radar—a hot trend or current event or fad can gain you initial views you wouldn't otherwise have received.
Not Viral, But Should Be
Someone sent me this video today, and I laughed out loud at it, but since it only has 630 views at the time of this writing, it didn't exactly qualify for mention as a viral success. And yet, I felt like sharing. So… please enjoy this Corgi who is too lazy to get up to get his ball:
I wish I had more time and space, so I could talk about these as well:
- MysteryGuitarMan's fantastic slide-whistle version of Bohemian Rhapsody
- This cat that hates Nickelback
- This video of Beyonce enjoying a block party with the general public
- This drunk tailgater at a college football game
- This bizarre scene aboard an international flight
- The Vote Naked campaign video in Illinois – excellent!
- Also, I give you the auto-tuned husky, Mishka