THE VIGOROUS VERSATILITY OF VACUOUS VIRAL VIDEOS

October 2016

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Or the lessons learned from a decade of online video content

In 2011, YouTube’s trend manager Kevin Allocca told a TEDTalk audience that more than 48 hours of content was uploaded to the platform every minute.

This was in the age when YouTube was still finding its legs as a career option for tech-savvy personalities, so the figures have definitely grown in the five years since.

The Web Economy
When you strip back the rhetoric around ‘Internet Culture’, one major thing stands out – the digital Wild West is a microcosm of democracy. In a space where established power structures and conventions can - and are - routinely ignored and subverted, the creativity of subcultures are free to mould their own art with a disregard for norms not unlike the Pop movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

What quickly rises in demand and popularity – whether this be video content, news stories, or memes – is dictated by the users.

So it’s no surprise that eventually these online cultures would spill over into the real world. And when in 2015 a new independent candidate for President of the United States called Deez Nuts began gaining popularity in the polls, it became abundantly clear we’ve reached critical mass.

Enter The Suits
Of course, like all things engaging and entertaining, eventually someone wants to make money off it. Communicating with youths is the name of the game and co-opting the language and memes of their online communications was a sure fire way to succeed, right?
Wrong.

Many of the early campaigns that attempted to use online culture as a means of advertising were met with vitriol. For example, anti-smoking lobby group Truth released a number of videos using popular YouTube stars and internet memes from years gone by.

The ‘on the nose’ approach incensed vocal elements of the Internet, who were very quick to voice their opinions. The videos remain a point of contention. 
So how could we avoid this? Obvious attempts to “create” viral video content is oxymoronic. You can’t purposefully make something popular. But you can be smart about your targets.

Buzzfeed and the Puppies
Knowing your audience is half the battle when it comes to creating success in the virtual content space. The second half is creating interesting, engaging content – not just patching together something for the sake of views. 

The Puppyhood series is one example if this in action. 

A partnership between Purina Puppy Chow and Buzzfeed is a match made in heaven, especially when you look at all the moving parts. Take Exhibit A: A Small Puppy and mix it with Exhibit B: A Handsome Facial-Haired Man.

Create a piece of video content aimed at Exhibit C: The Buzzfeed Community and sprinkle elements of Exhibit D: Young Professionalism And Relatability and there you have it – a piece of video content that knows the audience its playing to.

Understanding the framework and context of a video is one of the most useful tools at your disposal – these things give you a guideline, something to follow.

And also some rules to break.

Unexpected Success
Understanding your brand is paramount to marketing it properly. Having an in-depth grasp on their values provides the freedom to engage with an important element of popular online content – unexpectedness.

Creating content for your audience doesn’t have to be an expensive ordeal. If you come up with an unexpected, interesting element of your client’s brand to highlight and emphasise, that’s an ace up your sleeve.

Metro Trains campaign Dumb Ways To Die illustrates this perfectly. The video was launched in 2012 to raise awareness of trains and to increase caution at crossings – turning the macabre into something simultaneously funny and thought-provoking.

Subverting what people expect from a piece of content will do more for engagement than taking the safe route – and you can still stay on-brand.

In fact, this might even impact on the lingering effects of your marketing efforts – resonating with audiences well after the link’s passed.

Adam Warin