Play It Forward, Chapter 1: Identifying Criteria for Success With Viral Video

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingWhat makes a video viral? What do the most viral clips have in common? And what lessons can we learn to insure our video work in this space is as forward-friendly as possible?

I want to spend this week exploring this topic and welcome any input you can share because fundamentally, those of us with deep experience in consumer video need to reset our expectations and objectives. As creative strategies migrate from focusing solely on the needs of broadcast network videos to the more specific demands of social network broadcasting, knowing what most encourages viewers to share and spread your video will be critical to brand success. Clearly, not all viral videos are marketing driven, but even those that aren’t can provide clues about the common denominators of viral success.

Why should this matter?  Why fret about something that while popular, still represents a proportionately small percentage of client marketing budgets?

Because the future of brand-building advertising–the classic television image spot creatives love to produce–will continue moving into this new space.  Creating engaging, entertaining, relevant video for brand advocates to adopt and forward audiences they select as relevant insures more impact for your message than a general broadcast airing. In a marketplace increasingly defined by affiliations, tribes or communities, marketers that create surprising, engaging video that speaks directly to those groups will find more return for their brand image investment.

Which means nothing less than a reinvestment in the kind of production that excites and pushes creative people.

The future of high-end video production will be vastly different, but it will also prove to be a hill of fun. We just must do our homework around strategies, techniques and lessons for building success in this new forum. Video storytelling skill is not platform dependent, it’s aptitude based. And it would be a massive waste to dismiss the skills and lessons so many of us acquired over the years, merely because we’re ‘television creatives.’

Vision is vision. And ideas either excite or they don’t. In every medium…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


3 thoughts on “Play It Forward, Chapter 1: Identifying Criteria for Success With Viral Video

  1. Marc Lichtenstein says:

    I’ve produced a few fairly successful viral videos in the B2B arena, and I think there a re a few fundamentals that bear consideration:

    1. The Big Idea is still king. Like a great TV spot, a successful viral video depends on attracting attention, generating interest, creating desire, and ultimately creating action (the old “AIDA”). But with viral video, which depends on the audience to broadcast your work from person to person (sharing), attention and interest are slightly more important because the video needs to travel to find the right people at the right time who will advance their interest up to desire and action.

    2. Video MUST be file-friendly. Size matters, and in this case bigger is definitely not better. Emailing the video, uploading the video, and ultimately viewing the video requires the lowest common denominator because of the disparity of the places it will be viewed, and the channels it will be distributed in. And then there’s the world of mobile devices. Mobile web browsing, mobile social media, and mobile emailing are eating into the overall share of desktop and laptop users. Mobile devices have their own requirements too, so the video needs to be able to cross all platforms successfully. You can’t produce one video version for web, one for email, and one for mobile.

    3. It’s still a “spot”. Maybe not a TV spot, but it should be thought of as such in terms of budgeting. See VW’s “Happiness Project” videos. They do not look cheap, but the bulk of the money was probably not spent on the actual video production, but rather the locations, props, and art direction. In many cases, viral videos can actually net the agency a better profit since it’s not all about the production. It’s about setting up the idea and capturing it on video. And the added beauty is that you don’t have to spend millions of dollars on media companies to broadcast it if you launch it right.

    Fabulous topic D. Looking forward to following this discussion.


  2. Dennis Ryan says:

    Great points Marc–thanks for jumping in. If you want, feel free to post any links to virals you did or like. As you remember, this is one of E79’s biggest ever ( Gatorade’s “Ball Girl” which happened to hit during a brief run of “Is that real or fake?” clips and was earned the descriptor ‘Stealth Viral’ in some of the media. That debate alone got people talking and forwarding…

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