How to go viral – Make a F**king great video

Want to make content that will go viral? Here’s a crazy idea: Make a F**king great video.

That’s what a start up razor blade company Dollar Shave Club achieved this week, producing an ad that has been viewed over 2.3 million 2.8million times since last Monday.

If you haven’t seen it yet, head over to YouTube and take a look.

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s funny. This sounds obvious, but humour isn’t the easiest thing to pull off in an advert. Think about it. What was the last ad by a big brand that genuinely made you laugh? Let me guess – Old Spice Guy?

The resemblance between Old Spice Guy and ‘Our Blades Are F***ing Great’ is notable. Both are filmed as continuous monologues to camera with surrealist elements thrown in. But we’ve all probably seen a dozen or so OSG knock-offs, so why does this one work where the others fail?

For one thing it takes some risks and breaks some rules.

Using the ‘F’ word in the title and in the dialogue isn’t exactly highbrow, but it does grab attention. Despite the fact that the expletive is bleeped out in the Dollar Shave video, I’d imagine the Advertising Standards Authority would take a dim view of it.  After all, the BCAP code of practice explicitly states that ‘Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.’

Perhaps the most notable example of a big brand pushing this definition to the limit was TBWA’s FCUK campaign for French Connection. This resulted in on-going skirmishes with the ASA, but was undoubtedly effective, helping sales jump from £6.4 million to £19m in 1997. Not every campaign can get away with this. The ASA recently banned the Sofa King furniture store from using the catch phrase ‘Where the Prices are Sofa King Low!’

The risks taken in the Dollar Shave ad don’t stop there. Alongside a reference to Polio there is a joke about a Latina worker being given a job that is both topical (it is an election year in the US after all) and un-PC enough to send most legal teams into anaphylactic shock.

Fundamentally, the ad works because it is well written and produced. Contrast this with the usual content designed to ‘go viral’ by brands and agencies, and the differences are clear.

This was brought home to me earlier in the week when I was reviewing a big brand campaign featuring a long list of celebrities, each of whom had been commissioned to create new videos that were supposed to be shared on social networks.

The videos had high quality production values but were low on humour and took very few risks. Unsurprisingly, things hadn’t gone quite the way that the brand originally hoped, so I was asked to analyse what could have been done differently.

How to go viral – ask the experts

The answer to what makes videos go viral can actually be found in one which is doing just that: Kevin Allocca’s excellent TED talk delivered in New York last month. As a Trends Manager at YouTube he highlights the role of ‘Tastemakers’, ‘Communities of Participation’, and ‘Unexpectedness’ in creating viral hits.

Allocca suggests that these are characteristics of “a new kind of media in a new kind of culture, where anyone has access and the audience defines the popularity.” He continues: “No one has to green light your idea, and we all now feel some ownership in our own pop culture. These are not the characteristics of old media and they’re barely true of the media today. But they will define the entertainment of the future.”

Or to put it another way – surprise people with F**king great content. Get it to the right communities and let them play with it.

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