Everyone dreams of fame. Kids, adults; we all dream of being famous at some point in our lives. What else would explain the year-over-year ratings increase of "American Idol" and the massive preponderance of reality shows that catapult the everyman into fame within minutes?
Okay great, so we all want the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol anticipated we'd receive back in the late '60s. This was a tall order until the rise of user-generated video and a little site called YouTube came along to facilitate the dream.
The idea that you can mix Coke & Mentos on camera, unleash an explosive and dazzling chemical reaction, and garner millions of views, potential talent agency representation AND brands wanting to partner with you is, well, it is the virtual unicorn.
It's something we all have heard about, something we secretly believe exists and something we all desperately want to find... brands included.
Brands are committed to harnessing virtual unicorns and the intoxicating free media that they bring. They see viral video as innovative, far-reaching and culture-creating; all while being virtually free to produce.
The de facto belief is that you sink minimal budget into production, crank out a funny or shocking video, and then you're off to the races! It's "viral video" right? Millions are bound to watch it, pass it along, comment on it, rate it, etc.
This idea gets sold daily. More than likely, it's the client who requests that you "make video go viral." But let's dispel the myth; viral video is simply original or repurposed digital content that happens to tap into the cultural zeitgeist, resulting in millions of views. This is something that cannot be planned, predicted, controlled or guaranteed.
Let's consider a few real-world examples. A still-amazing example of getting it right is Nike's OMG depiction of Kobe Bryant's apparent jump over an Aston Martin. Whether he did or didn't jump that car is still debated. This video reinforces important associations for Nike – exhilaration and inspiration – and is therefore consistent with the brand's DNA.
Another classic example – a video that was intended for TV-only, but which was carried onto the web, presumably, by fans – is the Cadbury Gorilla. This video is utterly confusing and unforgettable. It works for Cadbury because it is kooky, fun, and because it is a powerful expression of delight. And candy is delightful.
But now for some attempts at virulence gone awry… "Celebrity Apprentice" devoted an entire episode this past season to the pursuit of viral videos. The teams were charged with creating one for All's Small and Mighty. What resulted were two videos so bad they only aired in the show and were never released online. In fact they are almost impossible to find online. Why were they so bad? They were short, had low production value and were funny or shocking. However they weren't endemic to that brand. All is a detergent that generally speaks to moms about cleaning clothes. In the chase of the virtual unicorn, they abandoned authentic brand values for midgets scrubbing a dirt-caked Jesse James.
I submit that we in the agency world are doing ourselves a disservice in attempting to sell original digital content under the guise of a "viral video." We owe it to brands and consumers alike not to tarnish the experience of enjoying original digital content by desperately trying to stretch all web-based video communications into the realm of the meme. Not every brand can be the prankster or the comedian. Be true to what you are. While we should absolutely help our clients to break free from tired or outdated advertising models, such efforts should always be strategic; they must be tailored to clear, well-thought-out objectives and target-insights.
Be smart with your dollars and create entertaining or educational content that will connect in meaningful but understandable ways with your consumers. Support these efforts with a dedicated distribution strategy that harnesses the power of social media, allow for optimization and track, track, track.
Don't chase the virtual unicorn.
Aimee Duell, SVP, US Director of Activation at PHD Media, a Division of Omnicom. You can follow Aimee @acduell
Read all Aimee’s MediaBizBlogger commentaries at PHD Perspectives - MediaBizBlogger.