David Title is the Director of New Media for Crossroads Films and the voice of MyMediaMusings.
Viral video. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Those sexy “v” sounds and the sense of something unstoppable, un-killable. No wonder the term has become so popular. It has also become a sort of Holy Grail for content producers, ad execs and brand managers across the world.
And, like the Holy Grail, viral video is at best an ancient legend and at worst a pipe dream. Thousands will seek it only to go down in flames, confused and lost.
Over the past week or so I have been bookmarking posts on the various advertising and new media blogs that have had something to say about “viral” video and I’m left a wondering just who is blowing all this smoke up who’s ass and why it’s continuing with no end in sight.
First, NTV takes a look at a WSJ article about the BMW “viral” video called RAMPENFEST. Both NTV and WSJ make it seem like BMW was trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by not directly claiming responsibility. The fact is, as I actually posted a few months ago:
“BMW never tries to truly fool us into believing this is real, they are just allowing us to suspend our disbelief and join in the fun.”
What bothers me about both the NTV and the WSJ articles is that they are lumping arguably smart, fun innovative marketing with viral video. Let’s get something straight: the “viral” in viral video refers to the fact that it spreads like a virus, exponentially expanding outward until it infects a large segment of a population. It has nothing to do with whether or not people know who created the video.
This turns out to be a trend. AdFreak has a post about the Gatorade video of a ball girl making an impossible catch:
“Another day, another viral campaign where you have to squint to find the culprit. This time it’s Gatorade, whose “Amazing ball girl catch” has gotten a few hundred thousand views on YouTube (although much of the traffic seems to be coming from debunking posts like those on Deadspin and Snopes).”
Again, this is NOT a viral video and the fact that Gatorade played “Where’s Waldo” with the sponsorship is not viral, it’s taking advantage of a climate where spotting the sponsor is blogger link-bait.
Of course, one wonders how good it feels to say “gotcha!” when the other side was hoping you would. Honestly, why on earth would Gatorade make this video at all if it weren’t to spread their brand.
Next up is ReelPop, which not only continues the trend of calling anything that moves a viral video (an offense for which Josh is guilty, too), but uses the exact same lede!
“Another day, another tongue-in-cheek ‘viral’ video from a celebrity. This time Kanye West jumps in the mix with a fake infomercial promoting Absolut Vodka. There’s something a little off about this one, though.
It’s hard to tell what it’s even promoting.”
See, they put viral in quotes so they’re “hip” to this whole “game.” Except that, once again, Absolut is doing nothing to hide their involvement and even if they were, there is nothing viral about that. Have I mentioned that already?
Ok, I could keep going but I fear I might overstay my welcome. The point is, viral video is that rare collision of events that causes a short clip to be seen by a large number of people over a short amount of time with no discernible central force pushing it through the world. In other words, even though millions have seen it, the Ironman trailer is not a viral video. The Evolution of Dance is a viral video.
Finally, to all brand managers out there who think this agency or that agency can make you a viral video, you’re wrong. If they tell you they can make you a viral video, fire them. They’re either liars or delusional