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The Viral Video – what you should be aiming for

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It has been a marketeers favourite “Buzz” word for the past few years now, well locally in Northern Ireland anyway. “We want to make a viral video” they say. “It has to be really short and punchy and we’ve got this really good idea”. I raise the palm of my hand and press it against my forehead, otherwise known as the “face palm”.

The problem is, there are thousands of videos deployed on the interwebs every day and it’s not the creator, but the viewers who decide the viralility (yes, I like making up words) of the video. Marketeers are studying viral videos, taking courses from so called “experts” and coming back with a list of key points that they have in common. “It has to be funny/bizarre, really short so people will be able to watch it in their free time at work or on their smartphone. It has to show off the key features of our product/service” the list goes on.

The problem is, these key points are shared by most of the other crap videos on the internet. By definition, the real measure of viralilty of a video is the amount of times it’s shared.

So, why do people share videos?

People share videos for the simple reason that they are good and they like them. Many amateur videos go viral just by chance, but if you’re a professional content provider you need to go back to the basics and focus on creating quality content. Below are some pointers.

1. Target emotion through story

People are emotional beings, they take action based on those emotions. The only reason why people click on that share button is because the video has triggered them in some way. You need to be thinking of your core target audience, the type of person they are and the type of story that you will create to trigger those emotions. Happy, angry, scared, tender, sad, excited are the basics.

Create a story that will target those emotions. It could be as simple as a montage of images cut to a suitable music track. Carlos Lascano perfects this in his stop motion film below.

2. Make it “film like”

It has been engrained into the human subconscience for the past 100 years what moving images should look like. The best stories have been told through this medium and they have all shared similar technical specifications. Most clients are not aware what they are and there is much debate on what makes moving images look “film like” especially with the advent of digital cinema, but there are some basics that can be followed.

Progressive frames, 24 or 25 frames per second, shallow depth of field and a shutter and of 180 degrees. It’s only recently that consumers had the power to shoot video with these specifications in the form of DSLR cameras, most notably the iconic Canon 5dmkii. This camera, originally designed to shoot stills saw an explosion in popularity and totally changed the camera industry because it could shoot with these specifications. For higher end work, RED, in my opinion have the best film look so far.

3. Shoot what people see in their brains, not with their eyes.

It’s easy to get stuck in the thinking that people always see things in exactly the same way because the focal length of our eyes never really changes. What we see with our eyes is always in real time, but what we see in our brain is a totally different story.

How many times have you heard a person say that time slowed down during a seriously intense moment they had experienced?That’s where tools such as super slow motion come into play. It projects what people ‘see’ in their brains onto the screen. It’s not how things happened in real life, but in their brain it is the most accurate description of the events that happened.

Make use of  other shooting methods, moves, angles etc. to show what people see in their minds. Below we see a video shot by Antimedia using a mix of aerial and super slowmo, emersing the viewer in the action.

4. Be aspirational, inspirational, and passionate.

Most people have dreams, places they want to be in life. Aim to create a video that will draw on those desires. Casting a celebrity can help, but not necessarily create the desired outcome. An everyday person, passionately telling their story can really inspire too. You want to make the viewer aspire to be, or be inspired the person in the video.

Dark side of the lens by Astray Films is a good example.

5. Build a following and make it an intricate part of a campaign.

To truly engage your target customers and create loyalty there are fewer better ways than building a following. Find the budget to stretch your campaign out over a duration of time. e.g create a web series that lasts the duration of the year, building anticipation, word of mouth and excitement for the next release.

Depending on the customer, the whole marketing campaign could revolve around a web series. The story itself being the creation and release of the videos. The amount of quality content that can spin off the build up, production and launch of each video has massive potential and poses great value for money. Behind the scenes photos, videos, blogs, can be released to press, websites and social media outlets, all creating a knock on effect of a greater following and viralility.

In 2009 I produced a mountain bike film called Break the Cycle. Behind the scenes photos, blog posts and video teasers were created for each shoot over the duration of the year. By the time the film was launched the trailer had over 1/2 million views.

6. Focus on quality content rather than the product or service

Clients can worry too much that they are spending all their money on a video that the product is not even in. In some cases it can be important, but the focus, in my opinion, should be strengthening the brand, connecting with the target audience and getting the video out to as many people as possible.

Online video always lives somewhere, be that a youtube channel, a web site, or a Facebook page. As long as that video links back to the companies online presence, is getting good hits and portraying the correct brand image it is doing its job. Think about what you are trying to achieve e.g link back to an e-commerse site, building brand loyalty or user database through likes and subscriptions that can be called upon for distribution of future content.

A perfect example of this is Robbie Maddison’s Air.Craft. A video shot for DC shoes and Redbull. What have DC shoes got to do with motoX? Robbie is even wearing Alpine Stars boots, a competitor of DC in the video. Red Bull is an energy drink and there’s hardly any branding in the video. The important part is where the video lives online. Its clear to see how much benefit Red Bull and DC got out of this video over a product heavy shoot.


The pointers above can help you create a video that will get noticed online but you need to figure out if they apply to your circumstances. I created this article because clients approach me all the time aiming to create a viral video. This should never be the aim. Instead, look for excellence, awesomeness and then to figure out how leverage those views by cleverly integrating the video into your marketing plan.

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