Like 16 million other viewers, I found this video of the “worst twerk fail ever” hilarious and extremely entertaining, so of course I clicked the share button. What I didn’t realize, however, was that the video was faked – or staged, rather, by Jimmy Kimmel. Chances are you remember this video, but you probably didn’t realize that the video was uploaded to a “sock account” without any promotion from Jimmy Kimmel whatsoever.
In other words, out of the 100+ hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute, this 30 second clip cut through the clutter and went viral on its own. Without any media push, tweets, or similar publicity, the video became the biggest viral hit of the year.
Has Jimmy Kimmel discovered the truth behind the nature of viral videos?
If so, he isn’t the only one. In fact, there’s a host of viral videos similar to “Twerk Fail” that are actually staged. Similarly, many of these viral campaigns were created without any corporate push or publicity.
You’ve probably read or heard about the “secret” of viral and sharable content, but why not learn from those who have actually done it?
The key for any viral content, whether it’s a video or blog post, is unexpectedness. Though this is the most important element, it’s also the most difficult to achieve. Whether staged or spontaneous, unexpectedness is what creates an emotional hook that attracts viewers.
Consider “Cat Lover’s” eHarmony pitch from 2011, which has since been viewed over 27 million times. At first, the video appears to be a normal introduction video of the young woman to attract potential suitors on the dating site. Within the first minute, however, the bio video gets cringe-worthy, as she emotionally reveals her deep affection for cats. Viewers were surely thinking, “Here’s a future ‘cat lady’ in the making.”
It turns out that the young girl trying to find a date online is actually an actress – and the video was staged. She has even appeared in a Volkswagen commercial for Super Bowl XLVII. Perhaps it was actress Cara Hartmann and eHarmony that got the final laugh.
Or consider the video “Pig rescues baby goat.” The internet is in love with cute animals, so this video was bound to get a handful of views, but it was the unexpectedness of a pig rescuing a drowning goat that made this video go viral. Viewers shared the video over 8 million times, amazed at what appeared to be a natural phenomena caught on film. It turns out, however, that the pig’s heroic rescue was staged by Comedy Central to promote its upcoming show Nathan for You. No animals were harmed in the making of the video.
Whether it’s video marketing or content marketing, social promotions or organic SEO, the primary ingredient to authentically viral content is unexpectedness. There will be no social community or tastemaker who will promote the content if it is completely expected and predictable.
It’s important to remember that unexpectedness doesn’t necessarily mean “shocking” or “surprising.” Rather, it’s simply the idea that something is “coming out of nowhere.” If creating unexpectedness is a challenge for your brand or your clients, then focus on creativity, which will result in a novel end product.
No viral video achieves fame on its own. There is always a trail of tastemakers behind the scenes, sharing the video with their friends. Essentially, there are three types of tastemakers:
Consider “Yosemitebear Mountain Double Rainbow,” which has over 39 million views to date. While this video isn’t “staged,” it’s the perfect example of the importance of a tastemaker. Double Rainbow was posted onto YouTube and remained dormant for many months, hardly getting a few thousand views. It wasn’t until Jimmy Kimmel tweeted the video to his then 90,000 Twitter followers. Less than a week later, the video skyrocketed to 4.8 million views and was the talking point of CBS and other news outlets.
To create content with viral potential, understand the science of why people share things online. In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger reveals 6 principles that define sharable – AKA potentially viral – content. They include:
Unexpectedness, appealing to tastemakers, and becoming contagious are the three keys to virility. Does your video and content marketing incorporate these techniques and strategies for truly shareable content?