Every week we break down some new and emerging viral video successes, hoping to put our finger on what it is that made them work so well. Sometimes it's easy, other times it's tough. In the end, the hope is that this series will help us all get a slightly firmer grasp on the ever-changing recipe for a viral hit.
Some interesting examples this week, so let's get started.
Recycling Unused Content
I'm a huge fan of the NFL. There's certainly no shortage of NFL players who have oversized egos, and it often leads to some bizarre antics done in the name of self promotion. At first glance, our first example appears to be a self-congratulatory (and terribly cheesy) song and dance number by one of the greatest running backs of our generation, San Diego's Ladainian Tomlinson. Take a look:
This video was placed on YouTube on January 11th, a mere four days ago, and I've already heard and read tons of national media coverage—mostly in the sports journalism world. For the better part of two days, speculation on the video's intent and origin ran wild. There were lots of unanswered questions. Is L.T. really this proud of himself? Is he really so blinded to think that this video is awesome instead of lame? Who is that strange old man in the video?
Then, sometime on the 13th, it came out that this was actually a Nike commercial that was filmed quite a while back but was never aired (making the quick glimpse of the Nike logo in the video a whole lot more understandable).
So the initial popularity of the video stemmed from the cheesiness of the piece, particularly the question of whether or not this video was on the level or purposely staged. Our first mini lesson from this example is this: mystery sells. After the public was duped by a few staged videos in YouTube's early days, we became quite the skeptical bunch. And that skepticism fuels the mystery for videos like this one.
Now that Nike is out of the closet, so to speak, as the creative push behind the thing, it forces us in the online marketing world to take notice of the giant neon sign flashing our most important lesson: recycling old or unused content is a perfectly valid viral strategy, and one that is essentially free of cost and planning.
If you're a video marketer, don't ever forget your vault. Odds are, if you're like me, you have a stockpile of content never released—likely because it was considered less than perfect. Even if you don't have unused videos laying around, you surely have unused ideas. Go back to the well, and you just might find a gem.
Foot In Mouth
The single easiest path to viral success is to capture a major celebrity or personality in an awkward or embarrassing moment. Even more so if that moment is flat-out controversial or offensive.
Enter Pat Robertson, who shows little remorse for Haiti's recent disaster by claiming the earthquake is a sort of holy revenge for Haiti's long-forgotten past:
I won't pile on Robertson in this space, mostly because he's taking plenty of heat from far more reputable and prominent writers and public figures.
But there's no denying the wildfire-like tendency of such outrageous videos to spread virally. If you catch something on film that, when described to potential viewers, seems impossible to believe… then you have a humongous head start on every other video seeking to go viral. Just like Mariah Carey's strange acceptance speech and Kanye West's stage-hogging antics… celebrities behaving badly is almost always going to play on YouTube. In fact, this particular version of the video—the YouTube version I've embedded above—was only uploaded two days ago and has already amassed a whopping 200,000 views. I don't know about you, but I'll take 100,000 views a day each and every time out.
Now, of course, Mr. Robertson might defend his comments as non-offensive. He would be wrong, but that might be his defense… I don't know. Or maybe he's as smart as he is offensive, and he went into it knowing his comments would stir up a hornet's nest—heck, the SEO industry alone is full of individuals who intentionally say outrageous things, because they know they'll get so much free publicity (and links!) out of the controversy.
I would never suggest a business strategy of "creating an online video with intentionally offensive comments”. That would be beyond irresponsible. However, there's something to be said for realizing how powerful our public mistakes can be.
Our final example is called Coca-Cola Happiness Machine. It's an ingenious little piece of marketing. Coke rigged up one of their vending machines—looks like it's on a college campus—so that a seemingly unlimited supply of Coke bottles would be dispensed. Heck, by the end, entire bouquets of flowers are being dispensed.
Check it out:
Now this has to be one of the most clever viral efforts from a large company that I've seen in weeks. Filmed Candid-Camera-style, the reactions of the surprised students are what make this video entertaining. Similar to any other practical joke video—the talking trash can piece from Volkswagen comes to mind—the fun is in seeing everyday people react to an event that definitely does not happen every day.
What I want you to really think about is this: How much money did this video cost Coke to make? A few hidden cameras, and maybe a few hundred bottles of Coke. That's it. Splice the footage together, upload, and boom… tons of exposure for the brand. Giving out free samples has long been a known path to building buzz for your product or brand.
I can assure you that Coke has a massive annual advertising budget. Who knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars they spend each year creating and airing commercials. But of all the Coke commercials I've seen on television in recent months, none will be as memorable to me as this inexpensive little piece of viral marketing. And it cost practically nothing.
There's also a clear case made with this example that our customers can be our best spokesperson. It's so common to see television commercials where obvious actors pretend to be regular citizens like you or me. Those have almost lost their effect, I imagine.
But hidden camera footage? There's very little reason or evidence for someone to suggest that the customer reactions in this video were in any way staged. There's genuine surprise, happiness, and humor on their faces, and that says a whole lot more than a fancy animated Super Bowl commercial can.
You and I both have the budget to go out and create something like this. And honestly… that's the beauty of online video. It's why I'm such a fan of Internet marketing. Giant corporations and unknown small businesses have a level playing field—at least in terms of accessibility and cost, if not in terms of creativity.
In summary, never underestimate the potential of previously discarded ideas or video content. Don't rule out the branding potential that lies in colossal failure or abject embarrassment. And finally, staging a small-scale hidden camera prank is comedy and viral gold—even for Fortune 500 companies. Oh—and don't undervalue the power of "free.”
Best of luck to you this week in your viral endeavors!