The Anatomy of a Viral Video

Any agency that has had a reasonable creative reputation, would know of a client, that has walked in the door and muttered the dreaded words, ‘I want a viral video’. You then go into education mode, expressing what is required, like great ideas, high production values, good budgets and in any case there is no real formula for viral videos.

Or is there?, Dr Brent Cocker and his team from the University of Melbourne have ‘identified patterns which form the basis of a Branded Viral Movie Predictor algorithm”, which identifies why some video content is watched and shared more than others”.  (University of Melbourne Website, 2012)

The most viewed viral videos have four key characteristics. What the research team coined ‘congruency’, is simply whether the viewer can relate their own value systems to the content presented. The ability of the video to raise emotions and also the motivation created to pass on the network are also factors of success. The fourth ingredient is coined as ‘Paired meme element synergy’,  and explains the combination of factors in the movie that combine to attain the interest of the audience, “for example, impromptu entertainment paired with anticipation”. (University of Melbourne Website, 2012)

Does the research match what is going on in the real world?

Sidwell is an agency who have recently produced American Hipster, video portraits of Americas trendsetters and their quest to make a difference.

In an interview with Mashable, the partners at Sidwell shared their steps to success. They refer to fresh original creative ideas and concepts as a starting point. Whether it is weird, entertaining, hilarious or unexpected, the video needs to emotionally appeal to users so that they would want to share it with other like-minded people. So there is universal agreement that a good viral needs to start with a great idea, and needs to evoke an emotional response from the audience.

Sidwell also gave also gave some practical tips for optimizing for online audiences, for example let you audience know what the video is about in the first 15-30 seconds, use interesting thumbnails to signify the video and go sparingly on the branding.

i guess the art of a viral video is how to get that emotional response from your audience, Krony 2012 had a sad story to tell but one that was full of hope, whilst pop musicians will publish entertaining clips of their work and thousands of their fans will lap it up online.

What are your thoughts on what makes a video viral?


2 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Viral Video

  1. Hi Frank,

    Interesting topic. I think it’s more art and luck than science. Although the formula put forward by Sidwell might be true for some of the successful viral videos we’ve seen, I propose there would be many thousands that have the same formula and they fail. I think it is generally and elusive and unique idea that becomes popular and also that content has to be seen by the right people to be shared then hit a tipping point before becoming viral. A fair bit of luck is needed in many areas. Finally I would say that people want to watch something that they like (for many reasons) and they want to share content that they endorse becasue it also reflects on them.


  2. Hey Murray, it is really difficult to define isn’t it?, I do agree with your comments that it is more art with a dash of luck and you really cant follow a formula. With the risk of being ‘jihaded’ by k-pop fans, I cant seem to work out the obsession with the ‘Gangam Style’, yes i know that its a catchy tune and the clip has some amusing moments, but I think it was approaching 10 million hits…seriously high for below average musical talent, no?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s