Just because a video goes viral doesn’t mean its successful, stresses Luke Weymark (pictured below), creative partner at Men At Work Communications.
When I recently read about a Melbourne production company that pulled the wool over the eyes of the world with eight separate viral videos (The Woolshed Company), it made me wonder: why do we have such an obsession with viral content?
Look, I get it. Every agency wants their concept to go ‘viral’ (that being said, I’m not really sure what ‘viral’ even means – I’m assuming for the sake of this piece it’s all about organically reaching a bucketload of people with a shareable idea). But here’s where I get a little lost. The agency may be keen to create viral content because it looks good in the trade rags and in awards submissions, but what benefit does it actually bring the client?
This is what I ask those brands who seem ever so keen on making viral content. “What exactly are you trying to achieve?” More often than not this question is met with a blank stare and a response of “What do you mean? We want to achieve a viral video.”
In other words, you are just looking to create a video that gets a heap of views, right? That is the primary goal of any viral video – not to achieve ROI, and not to generate sales or leads. So tell me, what is the real benefit?
You might retort that getting your brand in front of millions of people has to be a positive thing. This is the best argument that viral videos have going for them – the brand awareness piece. There are few brands that do this well. Take Red Bull, for instance. The brand is famous for associating itself with daredevil, outrageous, cool content that reaches millions of people around the world, and that makes Red Bull seem super cool by association. Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space is a perfect example of a brand aligning itself with amazing content that went viral, and the brand association with Red Bull was undoubtedly positive.
But the fact is that the vast majority of viral video content is unbranded – cats playing the piano and near escapes with dangerous animals. People will usually share a video that is shocking, entertaining or funny. But here’s the kicker – if the video has too much branding, then in my experience people will be less likely to share it. Many brands playing in the viral space opt for subtly introducing their brand, but then that sort of defeats the purpose of brand awareness, doesn’t it?
Then there is the issue of targeting your audience. A viral video may reach millions of people around the world, but the vast majority of those people will be highly irrelevant for most companies. Why should a local Australian business care about millions of views in other countries?
Again, I come back to the question that I always ask a client: “What are you trying to achieve?” More often than not the end game is sales. The client is trying to reach a certain audience to encourage them to take a certain action. Even in today’s world of content marketing where there are proven benefits in associating your brand with engaging content, there are more targeted, business-specific and effective types of content you can create and distribute, and it doesn’t need to be viral to be successful.
When I think of a viral brand campaign, I always think of the ‘Dumb Ways To Die’ video created for Metro Trains in Melbourne. The brief to the agency appeared to be something along the lines of ‘Let’s get less people to play on the train tracks’. Now, the video that was created certainly went viral – it reached hundreds of millions of people around the world. But what do millions of happy viewers in the UK, US or Japan have to do with stopping people from jumping on train tracks in Melbourne. The vast majority of the video’s audience were completely unrelated to the aims of the client.
Here I am bashing viral videos, when in truth I would love nothing more than to create a video that went viral. But that’s the creative in me – and, of course, I work for an agency where viral videos are the best type of bragging rights one can hope for. Everyone in an agency wishes they had a viral campaign under their belt, but for every successful viral campaign, there are thousands of videos that just didn’t cut it. These videos aren’t that easy to create, unless you’re The Woolshed Company who made eight viral videos, just to get under my skin (read: jealous as).
When a client asks to create a viral video, the first question should always be “Why?” A highly relevant piece of content which converts a specific, targeted audience can be far more effective than any viral video could ever be.