What Makes Viral Videos Viral? Here Are Five Attributes

June 18, 2013

Viral videos. Every company wants to create a viral video, yet few know how. Most marketers have at one time participated in a meeting where the directive is to create a viral video for the latest and greatest product. In general, the rule of thumb is that you cannot create your own viral video. Company-created viral videos are rarely a success. Not impossible, but rare.

Creating your own viral video is a risky effort. In most cases, it comes across as forced, cheesy and all about pushing your product. Fans won’t embrace or share content that they feel isn’t genuine, funny or touching in some way.

The question then becomes, what does work? How can a company create something viral that becomes viral for the right reasons?

1. Make it funny or touching, but don’t force it.

This is the most challenging aspect of creating an effective video. Forced funny can backfire on you. Use your audience, consumer-generated content or an outside perspective to help gauge what is actually funny versus what your internal team finds funny. Get opinions from those who aren’t as close to your brand. If you’re going with the touching aspect, be sure to tell the story and leave out the product push (think about Dove’s Real Beauty campaign… the videos don’t mention their products at all). But with both funny and touching, the key is to…

2. Generate a strong reaction.

Here’s the part most companies are uncomfortable with. To make something memorable, often times you have to take a risk. Whether you’re making fun of yourself, being more over-the-top than you’re organization is known for or showing a side of the brand you don’t normally show, the risk can also become the reward. It may be controversial, but that’s what gets people talking. A “nice” story isn’t going to fly around the interwebz. Be bold. Be hilarious. Be uncomfortable. Be devastating. And most importantly…

3. Don’t get too caught up in yourself or your product.

Everyone knows the Old Spice campaign videos. Not only did they not take themselves too seriously, they didn’t layer in multiple rounds of approval and legal teams when moving their campaign forward. Live responses to fans on Twitter (via video) surprised fans and showed they were listening, passionate about what they were doing, and out to make a statement about their company. If legal wants a hand in every aspect of the video, it probably isn’t going to fly. They can make it hard to…

4. Be real.

Literally. Some of the most successful campaigns are those that use real people and their reactions. Think of the Nivea’s “stress test”, where people were tricked into thinking they were wanted by police, only to prove a point about deodorant.

Or the Dead Man Down movie, who staged murders in an elevator to drum up awareness about the film. While the situations weren’t real, the reactions were, and those were priceless. Live reactions can never be predicted, which makes for truly awesome content.

Another tricky route is to…

5. Make fun of everyone.

Overt bashing of your competitor isn’t encouraged, but if you can do it in a creative way, go for it (extra points if you don’t name names). The Dollar Shave Club garnered kudos for their “Our Blades Are F*cking Great” video, where they posed the question, “And do you think your razor needs a vibrating handle, a flashlight, a backscratcher and ten blades? Your handsome-ass grandfather had one blade. And polio.” 11 million views later, most people probably dropped the idea that they needed the fancy quadruple-blade razor that was much pricier than the fun brand their friends were talking about. Dollar Shave Club effectively bashed every single one of their competitors without needing to name one. If you haven’t seen it, watch it here first. It’s pretty darn funny.

Evoking a strong reaction is one of the most surefire methods to get people to share any type of content, viral videos especially. And usually that requires some risk or being really, truly funny. Tasking your team with “create a viral video” isn’t the way to go. Rather, look at how you can create content that people will want to watch.

Let us know what your favorite viral video in the comments. Looking for content ideas for your own video? Drop us a line!


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