Posted November 28, 2012 by Steve Young

As a marketplace for video production (and professional photography) we’ve seen our share of requests for a viral video.

As marketers, we’d all love to create a video that not only explains our product, but also creates a viral loop. However, creating a truly viral business video is very difficult.

Trust me I’ve tried.

At a previous job, I created a video around the time of the Super Bowl featuring a “super bowl”. In other words, I featured a bowl with a cape and called it our version of a Super Bowl commercial. Hilarious right? 100 views later from my Facebook friends, I got my first taste of the viral slap.

However, if we study the two most memorable and most recent viral videos – Old Spice Man and Dollar Shave Club, we’ll find some common elements on what makes a video go viral.

The Viral Video Formula

As we go through all the different elements of a viral video, focus on the one that makes sense for your voice. As any professional comedian will tell you, it takes years to find your comedic voice, so focus on an element that makes you feel the most comfortable.


Burst Media reports that comedy is the most popular form of online video content among all viewers (39%), followed by news (33%) and music (31%). Comedy is definitely one of the main ingredients in both videos.

Although difficult to implement, getting comedy right is not impossible. Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, who studied standup and improv at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York, said, “this is the first time I’ve integrated my comedic training into a brand that I’ve built.”

Consider reaching out to a local comedian to brain storm ideas on your video concept. Do this before you even look for a video production company. The most important part of the video production process is the planning.

Sarcastic narcissism

Another element in both videos is the use of what I like to call “sarcastic narcissism”. Both leads play a narcissistic role to the extreme that almost makes them enduring and lovable.

You’ll even notice the element of sarcastic narcissism in the breakout hit – Gangnam Style.

Lesson here is don’t be afraid to be a little different. As Seth Godin likes to say, it’s riskier to play it safe.

High-quality video production

With video equipment prices declining it’s more affordable than ever to find a high-quality filmmaker. While you should be in charge of the video concept, it’s important to rely on a filmmaker to make sure the story is told properly.

From camera angles to stylistic editing, a professional filmmaker is important to ensuring that your video is engaging and entertaining.

Why Videos Go Viral

There are over 72 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute and only a tiny fraction of the videos have more than 1 million views.

Kevin Allocca, Trends Manager at YouTube, states that there are three main components of a viral video.

1)      Taste makers – These are people in the industry that introduce us to new and interesting things and bring them to a larger audience. Within the tech community these include folks like Robert Scoble, Leo Laporte, TechCrunch among many others. Coverage from one of these people can accelerate the viral process.

2)      Community Participation – A search for “Old Spice Man” on YouTube results in 100’s of responses and parodies. With the power of social media, we are no longer in the age of just enjoying a video; we are in the age of participating.

3)      Complete Unexpectedness – In a world where over 3 days of video are uploaded every minute, only those that are truly unique and unexpected can stand out.

The Old Spice Man and the Dollar Shave Club video convey their promotional messages in a way that is completely unexpected.

Difficult, but not impossible

We generally tell clients to aim for conversions and sales, however, if your ultimate goal is to create a viral video then use two of the most memorable ones as a guide in creating your own.

Producing a video is only half the equation, focus on who and how will cause it to go viral.

Similar to building a startup, it may take a couple of swings at the plate to get it perfectly right.

About Steve Young

Steve Young is the Director of Product Marketing at SmartShoot. He enjoys writing about marketing, design and product development. Although he shares the same name as a famous quarterback he unfortunately does not share the same bank account, so please throw him a bone and share or comment on his posts. Connect with him on Twitter and Google+.

Keep in touch: @stevepyoung

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