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The Viral Video Manifesto [Book Review]

viral videoOn the night of December 12th, 2005, the Saturday Night Live comedians Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg recorded a rap song about mundane activities like eating cupcakes and seeing a Saturday matinee of Chronicles of Narnia. After airing, the video was posted to YouTube, which by that time had been active for about eight months. A couple of months later, NBC executives requested that YouTube remove the video. By the time YouTube complied, the video had been viewed over five million times, earning it the distinction of being the first viral video.

Oh, if only we marketers knew how to make videos go viral, surely we would have a recipe for success. You can search “elements of a viral video” on Google, whereupon you’ll be provided with a whole bevy of possible solutions.  In The Viral Video Manifesto: Why Everything You Know is Wrong and How To Do What Really Works, authors Stephen Voltz and Fritze Grobe offer up their own recipe. By the way, Voltz and Grobe were the guys who made the most viewed of the many videos of Coke and Mentos, along with many others.

In all fairness, if making a viral video was like making a wedding cake, Voltz and Grobe aren’t so much as providing a recipe as they are telling us to use only the finest flour, sugar, and butter. How you put those ingredients together into something that will be shared over a million times will be up to you, or whatever supernatural forces are overlooking such things.

The four elements proscribed in the book are:

  1. Be true.
  2. Don’t waste our time.
  3. Be unforgettable.
  4. Ultimately, it’s all about humanity.

Of the four, the authors write:

The more you can stick to all four, the better, although you don’t have to be perfect to create a contagious video.  Strength in one area can often overcome a deficiency in another.

Marketers today may be extolling the virtues of storytelling in everything from tweets to whole marketing campaigns, but interestingly, the authors here tell us to skip the storytelling.  Instead, great viral videos have more in common with old Vaudeville sideshows. They make a good point, although I find that my own favorite viral videos do encompass storytelling.  

A fair chunk of the book is dedicated to the review of various viral videos, along with suggestion on how they could have been better. This is the type of brass tacks and nails advice that can benefit marketers. Many of us are coming from agencies where the tendency is to want to clean things up a bit much.  Often, that cleaning up is the very thing that can keep a video from going viral.

I’m not sure that after reading The Viral Video Manifesto just anyone could pull off the magic feat of creating a viral video.  In fact, there are probably only just so many slots for things to go viral.  If you are aiming to create a video, though, and hope that it goes viral, I do think that reading this book could help provoke the right kind of thinking.

In many of the case studies cited in the book, there was a lot of work. Sure, there were those moments someone just happened to be in the right spot just as a lion and a crocodile got into a bloody battle, but for the most part, people put a lot of effort into whatever it was they were doing.  To quote one of my favorite pieces of advice from the book, do it until you get it.

Join The Conversation

  • PaulRakov's picture
    Mar 13 Posted 4 years ago PaulRakov

    But aren't a LOT of viral videos a huge waste of time?  While one could argue the entertainment value of a dramatic chipmunk or a high school teacher dancing to several decades worth of pop songs, let's face it...we watch them to waste time.  Does any video go viral that teaches proper grammar? Nope. So while we can study ad nauseum why a video goes viral, it seems to boil down to those that appeal to the part in  seemingly all of us who slow down at car wrecks, sheepishly admit to enjoying watching people get yelled at by Chef Ramsey or, as the authors know, watch grown men get soaked by volcano producing mentos in diet coke

  • Henry Blaufox's picture
    Mar 13 Posted 4 years ago Henry Blaufox For me, the important takeaway from Ric's review and comments is that there is no guarantee. While nearly all of us yearn to be part of the creation of a viral video, and many consider it a professional high water mark, this takes a lot of repetitive effort. Follow the guidelines described in The Viral Video Manifesto, but be prepared to make several attempts before you score.
  • Mar 13 Posted 4 years ago Ralph Legnini

    Thanks for giving me The Viral Video Manifesto to read yesterday. It was quite interesting. I am now storyboarding a choreographed lo-fi single camera video of a baby biting my finger while we get soaked from exploding Diet Coke bottles. (guess you have to read the book everyone...!)

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