A post written by Justin and Luke

Justin: This post got me thinking about video – and dare I say it viral video. It’s a term I don’t like to throw around too often. True ‘going viral’ may be the ultimate aim but it’s hard to set as the objective. It’s the old Edelman adage – viral is the result, not the strategy.

You could say though, that almost everything we do in our job should aim to ‘go viral’. We’re in the business of driving conversations – the more people that are talking, the better we have performed. But as Pinny always says, you can’t have a dialogue with anyone without content. So the conversation business by default becomes the content business – managing it, shaping it, creating it. Whether the content is a story angle, a picture, a message or a video our aim is usually to create a ‘viral’ result.

For that reason video should be seen like any other piece of content we work on – it needs to be fully conceived and designed with the target in mind. So if you’re developing a video brief always have in mind what you want to say and who you want to say it to. Ask yourself what is the video’s exact purpose (which should always be more than “we just want lots of people to view it”? Who is the audience? What would resonate best with them? What do you want them to take away from having watched the video?

Luke: Justin makes a good point. It seems obvious but knowledge of the audience is key. A film of surf tricks is unlikely to impress a woman in her 50s who lives in Tunbridge Wells. Equally you don’t have to over-egg the content. If a telco client wants to engage with developers a behind-the-scenes look at a product in development should do the trick – don’t just try to be funny, informative can work just as well.

Justin: There are some other things to bear in mind when developing a video concept. Generally videos that are viral have something special about them, a magic ingredient or two. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I think a film you want people to pass on to friends should be at least one of the following: funny, shocking, irreverent, controversial, surprising, interactive, so of the zeitgeist, titillating (sex sells).

Luke: There is a thought that the “Shock of the New” concept could be put into play for ‘virals’. Show something incredible and people will pass it around. I’m of the mind now though, that as inboxes bulge with the weight of numerous funny videos’ we need to be cleverer with our films. I think something that is stunning in its simplicity like this or mind boggingly complex in its execution – like the HP printers example below – can equally stimulate a conversation.

Justin: Of course, most ‘viral’ films aren’t actually branded. The most successful videos tend to be the most authentic. I’m sure we can all think of examples of branded films that don’t work because they’re just too heavy handed. Equally this is why many of the “You’ve Been Framed” videos are the most viral – as they are not pre-planned and capture the world as it happens – which can be funny/shocking/surprising etc. In fact if you were to ask most people of the best viral video they’ve seen that was branded in some way, most people would stop and have to think for quite a while before they thought of one. Why? Well generally brands aren’t as risky as they’d need to be to be successful and many try to imitate the successful un-branded videos that have gone before. But we all know that most sequels just aren’t as good as the original.

Luke: Also some films that try to go viral are just adverts that have been shown online. To me this goes against the grain. It’s slapping old-style content onto new platforms, with disregard for the democratisation of the online space. Consumers should be able to interact with branded content not just passively watch it. A friend of mine showed me this the other day, he said it was one of his favourite ‘virals’. To me though it was just a funny advert created for the SuperBowl. Yes it is amusing. But no it is not a great example of online content. Though it should be noted that the subtle branding here is key.

Where brands can have more success, however, is in “prank” virals. I’ve posted about these before, but basically they’re interactive content. You either insert your friends details, or your own, to tailor the film. The reason these are so successful is that they make the viewer active. They immerse you in the film encouraging you to pass it on. I reckon we’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing – especially with the growth of Augmented Reality. Check out this example Nicola spotted. Though be warned – ASA has started cracking down on these sorts of initiatives. They think it’s dodgy that you pass on your friends contact details without approval. Spoil sports.

The other issue commercial companies have is rights. When creating content brands do need to be careful with image, model, music and overall online rights. A brand can’t be seen to infringe on anyone else’s copyright. The problem is a lot of the most successful UGC videos reference icons from popular culture. I wouldn’t have thought a brand could put their name to a project like this – unless they paid some serious cash to LucasArts – which is a shame, because it’s awesome. Sometimes I think brands should be braver and tread a little closer to the proverbial line. These Cadbury films are brilliantly executed and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have paid anything to the original rights holders. Other brands shouldn’t be so frightened of following suit.

Justin: So remember, if you’re suggesting a video as part of a brief/campaign/pitch – ask yourself why first. Ask who you want to reach and the reason for it – then check to see it’s got a magic ingredient to it. Also, test it before you release it. Find people from the audience you want to reach – test the concept, show them after shooting it and see their reaction. Any reaction less than “I’d love to show my friends” means you need to go back to the drawing board or look what further work you can do in editing before you release.

Luke: Although this post is about viral, I’d also encourage us flacks to think beyond the hackneyed ‘viral’ concept. True – some unique, witty content can take a brand round the offices of the world as workers unite over an amusing 30 second clip. But I think video can be used in many aspects of our jobs. From pitch, to press releases, to reviews – videos can better present our thinking, and better communicate our client’s messages to the relevant audiences. So as well as thinking of video as a route to the consumer, also think about how else it can work for you. A short film can introduce a team to a prospect, an idea to a client, a product to a journalist. Digital technology has made the tools cheaply available to all of us. Your film doesn’t have to have Hollywood production values to inform and spark a conversation.

Below you’ll see a few examples of the great and the not so great.

But let us know your favourite video (that a brand had a hand in) and let us know why…

Some Examples:

The Good – Branded Films we wish we’d thought of

Skating babies – Evian
Really highly polished video that just was so bizarre you had to pass it on.

The Dexter Viral
This was the first prank I spotted – though the Obama one was equally awesome.

Zombie Car Advert
Brilliantly simple advert for Vauxhall

HP Printers
This is quite recent. The execution

The Obama Musical
Low-fi but perfectly timed to coincide with the eve of the election. Though I’m not actually sure this was done by the Obama team…

Levi Jump in Jeans
Looks like UGC, but it’s actually brilliant executed branded film…

Sony Hijack
Not a branded film, but a good example how responding well can make £££ for a brand

Diesel – 30th Anniversary
Porn that’s safe for work

Microsoft – waterslide
Still “fresh” but a clever approach. No branding what-so-ever but a video that communicated a message (they then did a good job of telling everyone that they were behind it)

The greatest animation ever – by Blu
Included in branded section as this was all about self publicity. Blu now works on sizeable commissions from various brands based on the success of this truly awesome bit of video.

The Bad – Films that should have never got beyond the brand storyboard (in our opinion…)

Mr T Hitachi
Tim Callington’s favourite sells his sole to IT. Never mind the awful concept and dodgy script. It’s the shots showing the studio rig that upset me the most

Playboy Sub Girls.
Nominated by Jennings. Simply awful.

The Ugly – Classic UGC virals

Even before he was dead this was awesome

Diet Coke and Mentos
The ultimate home experiment

Volkswagen – Terroist
This is how brave and risky brands need to be to get a mass viral reaction…

Journalist FAIL
One of the funniest videos online – full stop.

Giant Snake
Another “prank” video. We love them though – we like to pass them on knowing the reaction they’ll cause.