Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Can you plan to go viral? Why sex doesn’t sell as well as a drumming gorilla

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 25, 2007

I attended a briefing organised by law firm Fox Williams last week about web 2.0.

One of the presenters was Colin Donald of FutureScape (which is a company that advises on brand marketing via video social networking sites).

Colin made an interesting observation during his presentation, namely that you can’t really plan for a piece of video to go viral.

He gave three examples of companies that had attempted to use the likes of YouTube to spread their brand message – Dove, Levi’s and Agent Provocateur.

Dove got it spectacularly right with a video exposing the tricks of the beauty trade.

Levi’s got it horribly wrong. This video’s a fake, which is a big “no no” in the world of social media.

Agent Provocateur was somewhere in the middle – it filmed Kate Moss in a series of scenes (and in a state of considerable undress) which (susprisingly) didn’t really tap into the online zeitgeist. It didn’t reach that many people, and some of the comments suggested the clip wasn’t quite the titillating visual feast the director Mike Figgis was aiming for. One YouTube user described it as “creepy”.

The most recent example of a video that certainly did hit the sweet spot of social networking is Cadbury’s drumming gorilla. And that wasn’t even created for the web – it’s just a TV ad that was made available online and has gone viral in a spectacular way.

For evidence, look no further than Facebook – there are now over 5,000 members of gorilla-related groups there.

So is Colin right? Can you plan for something to go viral? My initial instinct was that he was wrong, and that you can plan for something to go viral.

On reflection, I think he’s right, and these examples prove it.

I’d have put money on a video featuring Kate Moss in her skimpies causing more of a stir than a man in a gorilla suit playing drums or a woman being photoshopped to perfection.

The online success of the Phil Collins-obsessed primate feels like a happy accident. Did Cadbury’s know this TV spot would go viral? Unlikely.

This isn’t just a matter of luck though. Obviously you have to make the content as strong (and, Levi’s take note, as authentic) as possible. Then – crucially – you need to give people the tools to make whatever they will of your video.

Let them comment on it, share it, mash it up – whatever. Then the great internet-using public will decide whether it goes viral or not. Giving up control like this is anathema to many CEOs and marketing bosses, as it is a risk. But it’s a risk worth taking. Just ask Dove.

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One Response to “Can you plan to go viral? Why sex doesn’t sell as well as a drumming gorilla”

  1. […] by Graham Hayday on October 11th, 2007 I blogged about viral videos a couple of weeks ago. To save you reading the whole post, here’s a 19 word […]

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