When is a viral video successful?

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What's the reason why a video becomes a viral video ?Sex, pets and absurd, Andrea Natella wrote some time ago (in Italian). For sure we are inclined to share pictures and videos that have an emotional impact on us, make us laugh, make us weep or simply make us think. Then if everything is enriched by some kitten, we definitively share the content far more willingly. On regular basis we see articles and posts that try to explain - in an almost scientific way, the reasons behind the success of a video. When I read them, I am somewhat skeptical because I think that despite the "scientific basis” and number of cases, there is always something that cannot be guessed or calculated. I mean, you can put elements in your story that enable a certain viral beat. But that does not mean that you can grant a 100% "waterproof" result.

Every time I talk about viral videos, whether it is a training course or down to the coffee shop with my friends, I always try to get the message across the people that in addition to the number of views, it is important to assess how much of the brand values you were able to convey to your audience, how memorable your brand was, what's (if any) the thought process you created with regard to your brand. As a student of mine wrote a while ago: "It is important that the content does not undermine the brand". Otherwise, in my view, it is just a waste of money.

Let us, for example, consider the video that few months ago went viral all over the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nKWnhYxyIPE

Surely it touched you, but, in addition to that, what have you got out of this video, months afterwards ? Do you remember the product or the brand ? Most likely, not. Then, how much of the earned media turned into a competitive advantage? Just a little bit, I fear.

Let's talk about the ubiquitous video at the moment, the kiss between two strangers. I suppose all of you have seen it, if that is not the case, here it is:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IpbDHxCV29A

It has got over 62 million views so far. The couple Van Damme/ Volvo would pale into insignificance against this view record. One of the reasons behind the viral beat in this case lies on the fact that everybody thought it was a some form of art, as this is the way they presented it: a curious project, but at the same time, a very exciting one, by filmmaker  Tatia Pileva. Instead, after few days, when the main websites worldwide had the video on their homepages, and everybody shared it on Facebook (me included), we discovered that it was not all about a simple experiment of art. On the contrary, it was a smart communication operation by Wren, an American clothing brand. And people featuring the video, were actors, hired for the occasion.

I think that after few months it will happen the same that happened to the Thai video: people will remember the story, but not the brand. Even worse, maybe people will remember the brand in a negative way: indeed Wren's perception doesn't look like one of the best because the audience has got a feeling of being bamboozled. Is this what you want for your company ?  A huge number of views against a detriment of your credibility/feeling towards your brand? Oscar Wilde said: "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about". Not in this case, I suppose.

It's not the number of views that makes a video successful. At least not only. What makes an outstanding video is what happens when spotlights have been turned off and party is over. It is the connection with the brand, its memorable performance, when the sharing decreases and views slow down.

You achieve the excellence when a brand-linked memorable video with a high number of views takes on a life of its own. In this case, the content overwhelmingly enters the life of people, it is so strong that a company loses control of it. The message is so powerful that people want to seize its meaning. So here we are with the flourishing of countless parodies, we saw it at the time of Old Spice, then recently with the Van Damme video for Volvo; in the middle of many parodies, I want to highlight that of Chuck Norris, probably the funiest one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IdQWGyQgpZA

Unfortunately, as it is often the case with the excellences, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. But this can happen, even if you are promoting a truck (one of the less "sexy" products). As Van Damme highlighted.

I want to thank Massimo Scalzo for the suggestion of having this post (originally in Italian) translated in English and for the help with the translation!