[the following was distributed to the ad students of our previously mentioned viral video class]
As the name suggests, a viral video is one that is impossible to resist for some reason: it’s breathtakingly funny, weird, amazing, sad, joyous. It’s a virus. It infects your mind. And if it’s impossible for you not to like a particular video (for whatever reason) it makes it more likely that those in your inner circle of friends will have similar feelings about it. So you’ll share it with those friends you know will also get a kick out of it. If there’s any doubt, the video doesn’t get passed along. It’s that simple. Nobody wants to look bad in the eyes of their friends. And everyone wants to be the friend who’s first to send the cool video.
The thing about viral videos is that you don’t just like them, you LOVE them. They arouse stronger-than-average feelings and they have an executional X factor that distinguishes them from the herd. If they’re funny, they have to be funny in an adventurous way that seems different from all the other allegedly funny videos out there. They have to be worth talking about. And they have to be endlessly watchable for some reason. There has to be something compelling about them.
Great advertising tries to be honest and truthful and human. Great advertising tries to be “sensible”. To get the viewer nodding in agreement and maybe chuckle or other emotional reaction.
Successful virals go right for the jugular. They may contain a truth about the product they’re associated with. Or not. They don’t necessarily have to make “sense” in the traditional advertising meaning of the word.
Traditional advertising has always been a parasite on something more interesting than itself, a newspaper, TV show, magazine etc. Consequently, advertisers (and agencies) knew in their hearts that they didn’t really have to be interesting. Someone else had done the heavy lifting of creating the audience for them. They just had to make a token effort at being interesting. And so they did just that. They were somewhat interesting.
Virals have to earn their own audience. Virals are programming. Not ads. Virals are competing with everything going on in the world and on the internet for your attention. Therefore they have to be brilliant.
That’s all ;-)