Brands Must Stop Chasing Viral Success

There was a time when the word ‘viral’ was something to be avoided. Hardly a recipe for happiness, it was a term uttered only by doctors, and usually accompanied with the words ‘severe vomiting’ and ‘bed rest’. Even within marketing circles, it was a term which usually went hand in hand with the word ‘stealth’.

Of course, these were the days before Charlie Bit My Finger and Justin Bieber (also to be avoided and likely to make you nauseous, in my opinion). The days before clips of cats on skateboards were the talk of the web; before the dawn of the ‘viral star’.

Now, of course, boosted by the exponential growth of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the term has gone mainstream, describing anything exponentially popular on the Internet.

Now everyone wants to go viral.

Ever eager to jump on any bandwagon, brands have quickly followed suit. It seems any brand CMO’s resume is not complete without at least one viral video campaign to shout about.

However, just releasing a video you think is funny without any paid distribution in the hope of it attracting loads of earned (free) media is the strategic equivalent on sticking your hand in a haystack and hoping to pull out a needle.

Why Chasing Viral Videos Doesn’t Work

Just as technology and social media have evolved, so has online video. These days, the word ‘viral’ is simply unhelpful. ‘Viral’, after all, suggests something that is random, untargeted and out of control.

They are the exception, not the rule, and that’s why it’s a terrible tactic to focus on for you brand. Instead advertisers need to focus on a marketing strategy that’s predictable, repeatable and measurable – social video.

So scratch off ‘make a viral video’ off your company wish list, and instead add ‘create and distribute highly shareable content, repeatedly and at scale’.

What is Social Video

So what exactly is social video? Well, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), it’s “a non-interruptive, user-initiated video format sold on a cost-per-engagement basis”.

In other words, it’s the perfect union of social media and online video – content plus conversation.

No need to force people to sit through what seems like hours of a badly-edited TV commercial for toilet cleaner before they watch the thing they really want to watch. As we have seen with recent campaigns by Dove and Evian, the social video ad is the main star! People choose to watch it.

Users have total control of the viewing experience, including the ability to comment, share, re-post, pause and replay. After all, everyone likes to be the one holding the remote.

Why Social Video Works

Firstly, online sharing is growing exponentially. Over 4 billion items are shared on Facebook every day and 700+ YouTube videos are shared on Twitter every minute. That means millions and millions of people every minute are actively looking for good content to share with their various social networks. Brands should be looking to ride this wave, not get drowned by it!

Secondly, unlike chasing the next ‘viral phenomenon’, there is a formula to social video success.

You don’t need Darth Vader’s powers to be able to predict the next The Force. Why? Because thanks to the rise of ‘Big Data’ and recent academic work into the emotions which drive sharing, we now have the technological and scientific horsepower to drive advertising to the next level.

How Social Video Is Changing Advertising

Thinking about videos as a social experience rather than a one-off piece of content, forces clients and agencies to raise the creative bar. It focuses us on the bigger task of challenging the indifference people feel about advertising.

Social video is fundamentally changing the rules of advertising. Long gone are the Mad Men days when all an advertiser would need to do is buy the airtime, create the spot, blast it out to a captive audience, and raise a glass of Scotch for a job well done. Today consumers pick and choose what they watch with a nonchalant flick of their DVR remote.

So rather than releasing a video and keeping your fingers crossed it will go viral, try focusing on optimizing the ‘shareability’ of your video content and distribution strategy.

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