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The Recipe for Viral Videos

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If there’s one thing Gangham style taught us last year—it’s that word of mouth and the Internet can have explosive results.  Now, six months and over 1.1 billion views later, are we any better at predicting the recipe for viral videos?


I was very close to ending this article right there.  But I guess I’ll explain.

Let’s take a look at this in context—perhaps from the perspective of those who would benefit most from a recipe for viral video: Advertisers.  What is the most common usage of this term that was born out of the depths of the Internet?

“… no, I really like your idea, Adam… but how can we make this idea VIRAL???


“I guess what we’re looking for is some form of campaign that can really go VIRAL. Are you able to do that?”

I hope you can understand how annoying it is to hear someone utter these words.  If you don’t—just replace “Viral” with “Be successful” and join me in my agony, won’t you?  When something goes viral it is the result of what was produced, not something you can plan for.


Viral = Success.


Viral ≠ a type of niche product that the Internet seems to love these days


Sure you can plan for viral potential—and creating a campaign around a single clever idea that may or may not contain a shareable video.  But the viral nature of the video is measured by the success through which this product is eventually shared among the public—not how it is prepared in the development stages.  For example, two years ago Old Spice deodorant had a viral video on their hands when they produced “The man your man could smell like.”  The video was an instant hit and now holds over 44 million views.  We can even call it a viral sensation.  But lets say for a moment that this video was nowhere near as well received.  In fact, let’s say people sincerely HATED the video and violently took to the streets to protest Old Spice and their inability to create interesting content…

Got excited. Scratch that.

Let’s just go back to it not being well received.


In the world where Old Spice’s video was not shared and appreciated by millions, it would never hold the label “viral video.”  It would just be a “video.”


So now that we’ve established that a “viral video” is not a pre-determined form of content, we should probably return to our original question.  Are we able to predict what makes a viral video?




Ahhhh, got you.  I meant no.  But that was probably pretty frustrating when you read “yes.”  However, in more general terms, we can decipher what makes a viral video.  Usually the video is relatable to a mass audience and somehow strikes a chord with a current trend or pop culture idea found to be interesting/funny (i.e. Asian man dancing with horses) and worth passing along to friends.  Why is this so hard to predict?  Because our culture changes every day, what seems to interest us changes everyday—and, occasionally, the world stage changes.  To predict a viral video is to predict what the world’s collective conscience is thinking at that very moment.  So let’s start a movement against the blanketed use of this term—and understand that viral will happen when viral happens.  Just as success will.


Post-game thought:

Also kittens, puppies and bikini clad women.  They all go great with that stuff I said before.


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