Wouldn’t it be fab to have the whole world talking about your video, with eyes all over your brand or product as it gets shared frantically by all and sundry?

Attempting to create a 'viral video' can seem like a great idea but it has potential to backfire badly in terms of negative perception of your brand or company. It can also cost vastly more financially than other forms of video marketing.

There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity which is only half true.

Unpredictable

The elephant in the room with “virality” is that for every viral hit, there are a million bacterial misses.

If creating video which went viral was predictable or formulaic, every company would be doing it again and again but the number of huge viral hits is remarkable small.

The creator of the world’s biggest ever viral hit, Psy, withdrew from the music scene completely, knowing only too well he would never be able to repeat the global success of Gangnam Style.

Viral vs Share-able

Video content goes viral because people who watch a video then share it with friends - who share it with their friends. The original concept of a viral video developed long before Facebook and social media became so dominant, when the best way of sharing content was by emailing a link to friends. Funny viral video was new, it was special.

The video of wayward dog Fenton was so special, it was featured in prime-time TV news

Thanks to Facebook and Youtube, video sharing has become so common it’s done tens of thousands of times an hour. Video is shared twice as much as any other content and there’s a LOT of content designed to be shareable.

Many companies base their entire business model on creating sharable video content which sits on pages full of adverts. They make money by serving adverts on that page, not by promoting a product within the video.

Any company hoping to create a video which goes viral now competes for attention with a flood of similar content so they have to invest very heavily in social media promotion.

Videos which go viral have similar themes

Many (but not all) videos which go viral surprise the viewer in some way, make them laugh, or feature a genuinely emotional moment which is near impossible to replicate or manufacture.

However, including all the right elements does not make a video go viral. If it was predictable, it would be common. Videos tend to go viral completely by accident.

'Chewbacca Mom' wanted to share a video of her recent purchase, but it was her unrepeatable sheer genuine joy which made a viral hit

Counter-productive

The hope is that a viral video increases brand awareness which it may indeed do, but it achieves little else in terms of direct sales.

Going Viral can also have a dramatically negative result.

Volkswagen's Infamous 'Small but tough' video

There have been claims that the video was in fact an advert which was banned, and claims that Volkswagen have denied any involvement with its production.

There have also been claims that Volkswagen actually commissioned it, and claims that it was produced by a video company for their showreel.

Volkswagen have clearly not requested the video's removal from Youtube however, probably because it actually presents the brand message (Polo, small but tough) very strongly.

Few will argue that brand awareness was achieved, but at the cost of alienating and offending a significant portion of the viewing audience. The psychology used in the video is without doubt impressive, with dozens of subtle visual cues deployed to sell a feeling and location. It makes the punchline all the more inappropriate.

Shocking or offending anyone, let alone your potential customers, is obviously a huge business risk. Terrorism is a subject best left out of the marketing plan.

Pepsi's 'Riot' Ad

Even the big corporations misjudge video catastrophically sometimes. Pepsi thought they had created a strong, emotive, hopefully viral advert featuring Kendall Jenner in 2017, but they had made a similar mistake to the Volkswagen video.

Riots are not calmed by soft drinks. At a time when 'Black Lives Matter' was becoming a politically sensitive phrase, offence at glib corporate hijacking of serious social issues was taken in large measure.

The multi-million dollar ad was hastily scrapped, and a statement issued:

'Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.'

Bottom line: Viral video is rarely cost-effective

The goal of every video produced by a business is ultimately to generate more revenue. Simple.

Given:

  • The sheer cost of the promotion required to get a video to go viral

  • The intense competition from vast amounts of content designed to be shareable which simply didn’t exist 10 years ago

  • The risk of all the cost and effort having negligible effect, or worse - backfiring;

it no longer seems sensible to attempt to create a viral video. There are more effective ways for a company to allocate its marketing budget. Create video which works and serves the business purpose. If it happens to go viral, fantastic. If not, it is still a far more effective marketing effort.