What Goes Into Going Viral?

26 Mar

By now, I’m sure that most (if not all) of us have heard of the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children.  Regardless of your personal opinion on the effectiveness of the campaign, Invisible Children’s credibility, or its founder’s behavior, one thing is undeniable; the campaign was astonishingly successful.  The goal of the campaign was to make Joseph Kony famous and now pretty much anyone with an Internet connection has heard of Kony and is aware of what he has done.

A viral video is the holy grail of marketing.  If successful, a viral video can reach 100 million viewers.  Companies pay an average of 3.5 million dollars for a 30-second Super Bowl ad to reach roughly the same number of viewers while a viral video’s cost will typically range from nothing to a couple of thousand dollars.  The issue is that viral videos are not easy to make; viral status on the Internet is usually reserved for embarrassment or cat-related videos.  However, some companies—mostly non-profits like Invisible Children—have managed to be successful in viral marketing. There are also examples of successful viral marketing in the for-profit realm within the film industry, beginning with the Blair Witch Project and most recently, with the Paranormal Activity movies.

There are strategies and a framework that companies can use when attempting to create viral videos:

  • Use Emotion: What does a video featuring an awkward teenager playing Star Wars have in common with the Kony 2012 video? They both tap into our emotions, although in very different ways.  Effective use of emotion is the cornerstone of any successful viral video, but the emotion in question is less important.  The emotion can be humor, fear, sadness or love, as long as the video uses the emotion to sell its message; the video has a foundation for success.
  • Tell a Story: Story telling is as old as the human language.  As a species, we are hard wired to remember stories better than straight facts or statistics.  The Kony 2012 video could have listed off all the facts about Kony and the LRA, but that message would not have resonated like the story they told about Kony and the people he has affected.
  • Use “Culture Makers” to Spread the Video: This last piece may be the most important.  Plenty of well-made videos that tell an emotional story never gain viral status.  The Kony campaign made use of what it called “Culture Makers” to ensure the success of the video.  A “Culture Maker” is someone with a large online presence and social network like a celebrity or politician.  Invisible Children individually messaged around 30 celebrities and politicians the video and urged them to share it with their followers.  Many did and this played a huge role in the rapid explosion of the viral campaign.

by Bryan Duva






One Response to “What Goes Into Going Viral?”

  1. Connie Chen March 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    Very relevant article. I watched the KONY video a while back and was drawn into the movement, though I’m not sure what to think now. One particular emotional tactic the director/producer used was with the little boy. Little kids are a symbol of purity and innocence, so that made it even more persuasive.

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