Looking to make a viral video splash? Who better to teach success than the Coke and Mentos guys? Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe have just written The Viral Video Manifesto. We’re pleased to present this excerpt.
Being unforgettable means going out on a limb and trying something different. That can seem risky.
But the real risk in online video is in trying to play it safe. If you’re not different enough to distance yourself from the pack, your video won’t go viral and your entire effort will have been wasted. If your target demographic doesn’t find your video unforgettable, they won’t care and they won’t share, so don’t put your budget into television-style production techniques. Put it into making something unforgettable. That’s where you’ll see the return.
Are you bold enough to do that? Is your boss bold enough? Your legal department?
Cadbury has been great at this, creating unforgettable videos with a drumming gorilla and an odd but captivating eyebrow dance. Both videos went out on a creative limb and brought them phenomenal success.
After the success of the boldly unusual Cadbury Gorilla drumming to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight,” Cadbury was daring enough to create something weirdly different and hugely successful again with Cadbury Eyebrows, in which a boy and a girl sit in a photographer’s studio preparing to have their portrait taken. When the photographer steps out for a moment, the boy presses a button on his watch, which then starts playing the song “Don’t Stop the Rock” by Freestyle. As the music plays from the watch, the two kids proceed to raise, lower, and ripple their eyebrows in an elaborate eyebrow dance in time to the music. After a minute of enjoying this classic sideshow-style stunt, this video also fades to the brand message: “Cadbury Dairy Milk, a glass and a half full of joy.” Eyebrows was another bold campaign, and that boldness has paid off with 9.3 million views online.
Between Gorilla and Eyebrows, however, Cadbury had made the mistake of playing it safe. They created Cadbury Trucks, a video of airport baggage trucks speeding around an airport. No crashes, no accidents, no stunts, no one injured—in fact, no humans visible at all.
Perhaps there was the germ of an idea there that could have been different enough to catch on online, but without more, it wasn’t enough. The most popular YouTube copy we were able to find has had only 360,000 views.
Cadbury Trucks makes several mistakes, but most of all, it just doesn’t have that sideshow hook. Step right up, step right up, see . . . uh, baggage trucks racing around an empty airport? It appears Cadbury learned its lesson from that video, however, and it came back strong with the much bolder, odder, and far more successful Cadbury Eyebrows.
The guys at Blendtec went out on a limb to show their powerful kitchen blenders doing what they aren’t supposed to do: blending everything from an iPhone to glowsticks to golf balls. Their classic Will It Blend? series has more than 50 videos that each has had over 1 million views.
Seeing a blender violently shred an iPhone into bits of metal and black powder is unforgettable. We’re perhaps a bit worried for the safety of the guy doing it, but it’s a fantastic hook. And suddenly Blendtec is the coolest blender on the planet. Before Will It Blend?, who thought a blender could be cool?
It’s easy to imagine the head of Blendtec getting a memo from his legal department saying, “We don’t want to appear to be encouraging people to put cell phones, hockey pucks, and tablet computers in our blenders.” But if legal had shut down Will It Blend?, we never would have had the priceless experience of watching a blender shred Justin Bieber’s autobiography (1.9 million views).
And Blendtec sales wouldn’t have gone up 700 percent the way they did.
Yes, evaluate the risks. Be smart. But if you start by looking only for ideas that are safe, your videos will sink into the oblivion of obscurity. People don’t share videos that are the same as everything else they’ve seen.
If you don’t open yourself up to the possibility of doing something bold, it’s going to be hard to make something contagious.
You have to be bold enough to find something unforgettable.
You Can Be Unforgettable Without Being Crazy
What if your brand has to be more conservative than Cadbury or Blendtec? Well, you don’t have to be wild and crazy to be unforgettable.
Take a look at Dove’s Evolution (15 million views) a stunning video with a profound message.
The video begins with a woman sitting in front of a plain gray backdrop while looking straight into the camera. At time-lapse speed, we watch as fashion professionals do her hair and makeup, take her photograph, and, finally, digitally manipulate the image to make her neck longer, her lips fuller, and her eyes bigger.
After 30 seconds of watching the transformation of this woman’s face into an idealized image that only vaguely resembles her, the camera pulls back to show the final photograph up on a billboard. Words come up on the screen: “No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted.”
It’s not bizarre or wacky, but it’s still bold and unforgettable. It’s effective and beautifully suited to Dove’s brand image.
Even safety itself can be made unforgettable if the treatment is bold enough. Sussex Safer Roads was powerful and poetic with their video Embrace Life—Always Wear Your Seat Belt (15 million views), showing a car crash through slow-motion mime. A man’s wife and daughter wrap their arms around him to become the seat belts that keep him safe.
The video goes against the usual scare tactics of driving safety campaigns for a positive message, strong emotional punch, and unforgettable images.
That’s what viral video is built for.
Like Dove and Sussex Safer Roads, like Sony Bravia’s color-themed viral videos and T-Mobile’s train station dance, you, too, can take your ideas to the extreme while still being smart, sophisticated, and on-brand.
Think Super Bowl
In American advertising, often the Super Bowl is the only thing that gets marketers thinking this boldly. Is it any wonder that Super Bowl ads are some of the only straight-up commercials that go viral online? They’re the ones where marketers take chances and do things that are different.
The Force: Volkswagen Commercial (54 million views) set the bar for a Super Bowl ad going viral online. It’s anything but just another car commercial. And, as in any good viral video, the brand presence is integrated and light. Volkswagen branding doesn’t even show up until the last few seconds.
What makes this video unforgettable (at least to everyone who’s seen Star Wars, which is a lot of people) is watching a little kid dressed as Darth Vader who has spent the day walking around unsuccessfully trying to use the power of the Force on everything from the family dog to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, until his dad cleverly tricks him into thinking he’s really got Jedi powers.
If not for the television commercial production style, this content could be right out of a home movie.
The brand tie-in comes in only at the end, when the boy tries to use the Force on the family’s Volkswagen and his dad clicks the remote starter to make the kid think he’s succeeded. The boy’s incredulous reaction, reeling backward from the car, is priceless.
It’s remarkable to think that this video could have been even more powerful. Imagine if it had also followed Rule One, Be True. What if The Force really had been a home movie of a dad pranking his son? But that’s where a home run in Rule Three, Be Unforgettable, can be the driver of viral spread that overcomes all other failings.
We had never seen anything like The Force before. That made it powerfully contagious.
So think big. Think bold. Think Super Bowl. Then bring that attitude to the Internet, where you don’t have to spend millions and millions of dollars on the Super Bowl ad buy.
Michael Donnelly, then director of interactive marketing at Coca- Cola, said our second viral video for Coca-Cola had “the impact of a Super Bowl ad.” You don’t get that without being bold.
So don’t hold back. When the goal is to be unforgettable, you’ve got to be open to ideas that dare to be different.
From The Viral Video Manifesto by Stephen Voltz & Fritz Grobe, reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. Copyright 2013.