By Ed Robinson, Co-Founder and ECD, The Viral Factory Ltd.
Let’s start with the definition of the term ‘viral’. It’s not a thing, it’s an effect. A viral is a viral when it has achieved viralness… i.e. been spread willingly and energetically by the very audience it is aimed at.
OK, OK, I know we have the term ‘viral’ in our company name followed by the word ‘factory’ thereby suggesting a noun rather than an adjective… but we named ourselves a long time ago and we were being tongue in cheek clever!
So first off, just making a video and sticking it on the internet is not what this piece is about, and if it was I’d have trouble filling 800 words. This is about making a piece of content which will cause a viral effect.
The first thing to say is that it is not random. There are rules and tricks and pitfalls. It is not simply down to the hand of chance, but that is not to say luck doesn’t play a part. It’s like trying to make a hit record, no one, however talented or clever can guarantee a hit, but you can give yourself every chance if you know how.
I’m going to use the analogy here of Stock Aitken and Waterman (showing my age) and try to relate what we do to how they managed to churn out constant hits in the 80’s. Yes they where mostly crap (Roadbloack wasn’t) but you can’t deny their success rate. So let’s begin.
1. Know your audience.
Like the Hit factory (SA&W) you need to really get to know the people you are trying to appeal to. Hang out where they hang out, listen to how they talk to each other, figure what they like and don’t like, learn fads and trends and fashions (we call them memes). Only by really knowing your audience will you possibly make something that will truly excite them.
2. Deal in big unifying themes.
It’s no coincidence that obscure artists write about coalminers or the ‘Oranges from China’, popular artists write about love, loss, life and death. Find something which speaks to people’s core humanity and you have a chance of having mass appeal.
3. Keep it simple.
Popular music is defined by a basic simplicity, in structure, ideas and compactness. So are virals. There is no room for smartarse artsy cleverness in either. You can have a clever idea… but boil it down until it is easily understood by just about everybody. Leave smug complexity for ATL advertising.
4. You need a hook.
They called it a hook, we call it the ‘viral moment’. It’s the bit you just can’t get out of your head after hearing (or seeing) the piece. If you haven’t got a hook you won’t have a hit.
5. Choose your Frontman.
SA&W made hits for a variety of different people, or rather, they chose people to front their songs depending on who they were targeting. In viral you have to do the same… you need an acceptable, likeable persona to engage your audience (and be advised: it is not you or your brand!) so create or find someone who is palatable for the audience. Almost every viral we have made that was successful feels like it was from an individual not a corporation.
6. Make it lovingly with people who know how.
Every single member of your audience can smell crap production. Put time, effort and love into making the content and it comes through to the audience. It may end up looking (or sounding) just thrown together because sometimes you want it to be that way, but that often takes the most work and effort and you won’t generate a hit unless you inject a little love into the making process.
7. Get it out there.
Make sure the right people get to hear it at the right time. Don’t shove it down their throats, because it’s just as easy to annoy opinion formers as it is to garner their backing, but if you don’t let them know you’ve done something you are proud of then it will languish on your shelves gathering dust.
That’s about as far as I can stretch the metaphor. The only thing missing is the trickiest bit of all, and that is how to integrate a marketing message and value for the client without killing the love you are trying to generate.
It is genuinely like asking SA&W to have a 15 second break in the music for a short jingle about McCleans Whitening Toothpaste and still have the song be the most popular out there.
All I can say is - be delicate, honest and considerate to your audience when delivering the clients’ message and, fingers crossed, you might still have the YouTube number 1 megahit you were after.
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