When it comes to creating video content for a brand or small business, a viral video is the holy grail. A piece of content that so connects with audiences and captures the imagination that it is voluntarily shared repeatedly across the internet – what could be better for a brand seeking maximum exposure?
The common misconception with viral video is that it is always homemade, amateur or that it spreads somehow accidentally. Though this was true in the early days (and can sometimes still be the case today), marketers quickly realised how powerful viral video can be and began to harness that power. In fact, today, 9 out of 10 of the top viral videos have been created professionally. It’s a modern marketing fact that viral video can work brilliantly for raising brand awareness fast – but how can you deliberately ‘make’ a viral video?
Although there are no guarantees when it comes to making a video go viral, there are certain characteristics shared by all viral videos. If you want your video to be compellingly shareable, these are the top priorities in terms of content and style:
Harness the element of surprise. All viral videos have something unexpected about them that marks them out as different from their competitors. Don’t follow the rest, subvert an idea that immediately piques the viewer’s interest. Think of the ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ Australian public safety film that was an internet sensation a few years ago. Using cute animated characters and a funny, maddeningly catchy song, Dumb Ways To Die turned the idea of the serious, educational public information broadcast on its head, and heralded a new era of naïve style animation. Catchy music can also help – although be aware that many viewers (especially mobile users) will watch videos with the sound off.
Include humour. Not all viral videos are funny – but many contain humour or irony. Humans are social animals and laughter is eminently shareable. If you can include humour – do. But only if this authentically reflects something about your brand identity. Have a look at this very amusing (yet highly informative) video for toilet training seat ‘Squatty Potty’.
Make your content value-adding. Although it sometimes seems like we are all just pointlessly sharing videos of cats falling off shelves and pandas sneezing, the brand films that go viral often contain an important element of useful information. Michael Dubin, former CEO of the Dollar Shave Club, sold his cheap razor subscription business for 1 billion dollars, five years after launching with a brilliant viral video. Combining charismatic humour with the unexpected, the video entertainingly demonstrated why no-one should spend more than a dollar a month on disposable razors. In this case, entertainment + value-adding content resulted in ultimate shareability.
Don’t be derivative. If you see a funny video that’s gone viral, don’t try to do your own version – unless you can make it genuinely quirky and captivating in its own right. There are many derivative versions of Dollar Shave club that don’t work, but also a very clever antidote version, ‘The Dollar Beard Club’ which promotes a subscription service for oil and products for men with beards.
Use the power of emotion. Humans take action based on how they feel. Successful viral videos generate strong emotions in people – be they joyful, empathetic, or sad. A moving charity video for example can prompt people to take direct action and donate or share (the Second a Day video for Save the Children is an amazingly affecting example of this).
Unless your brand requires an empathetic response from your audience however, research shows that it is best to concentrate on generating positive emotions. The feel-good factor can play a large part in making your video shareable. For best results, use your video to tell an emotionally uplifting story simply, quickly and arrestingly, using humour and surprise. The big-budget Nike football ‘The Switch’ ad brilliantly demonstrates this.
Piggyback a cultural trend. Make it easier for yourself by basing your video on something that is already being widely shared and searched. If people are currently responding to prank videos and it fits with your brand, have a think about incorporating that. If the gadget of the moment is a VR set or everyone is talking about Star Wars – can you somehow use one of those themes in your video? It may well not be appropriate for many brands, but it’s worth thinking about popular content themes as a way of leveraging more social shares. Social Media scheduling tool Hootsuite cleverly made a Social Media themed version of the Game of Thrones title sequence to piggyback on the popularity of that show.
Keep it short. We often look at Social Media in short bursts, during breaks, scrolling through quickly and stopping briefly on content that momentarily captures our interest. Video is naturally more captivating than other forms of content, but in order to go viral, your video needs to grab the viewer’s attention in those first few scrolling seconds. Dispense with rambling intros and product shots and get straight to the point. Sustain that attention by being fresh, pithy and quirky. 15 seconds to 1 minute is the optimum length for a viral video. Turkish chef ‘Saltbae’ produced a compelling 30-second video that achieved 7 million views and spawned thousands of copycat memes (not to mention football goal celebrations).
Use influencers and paid promotion. Give your video a head start by pushing it heavily on social channels in the initial stages. The best way to do this is by getting ‘influencers’ with a large number of followers to share your video with their audiences. Think about influencers who are relevant to your brand or product. Often ‘micro-influencers might better suit your promotion – they have smaller follower numbers than the top influencers but their followings are more focused and niche so you will have a better chance of reaching an audience who will be interested in and engaged by your video. You might even think about featuring or interviewing an influencer in your video. They will share it on their channels and you will have access to their followers. Some influencers will share your content for free and others will have a payment structure in place for various levels and types of promotion. Whisky distillery Lagavulin did this to great effect with Ron Swanson.
Likewise, think about paying to promote your story by advertising on Social Media when you launch it. Once it gains a certain number of followers and shares, then a snowball effect will lead to far greater (organic) engagement and you can cut back on the paid promotion.
Professional video production. As we learned earlier, the majority of viral videos are professionally made. Viral video is highly sought after for a reason – it’s incredibly valuable to a brand, and is pretty hard to achieve. If you want your brand video to go viral deliberately, it will usually need an exceptional creative concept, a great script and good production values – not to mention a strategic approach to promotion. Have a go by all means, but if you’d like to have a chat about professionally producing a viral video and have a look at our previous viral work, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Small Films are a video production company in London. By combining strategic minds with creative flair we create powerful stories with video that deeply resonate with audiences, supporting our clients to achieve their ambitions in growing their organisation, brand or campaign