Many times in the ideation process or in the pre kick off stage of a project someone has the idea to “make it viral.” It is usually a two part discussion consisting of the suggestion to make a viral widget and the the question on how to do that?
Office Max’s Elf Yourself used to come up in everyone of these conversations but now the Old Spice Guy custom youtube video comes up. This post will explore not how to make something viral but the disconnect that exists between the desire to do great work but the unwillingness to take the risks and put in the effort that requires. We will explore some of the things that these two giants did to make the point of what it takes to do viral work.
How did OfficeMax know that Elf Yourself would go viral? That was a stroke of genius right? It wasn’t, it was a stroke of testing and failing. OfficeMax actually launched 20 sites and must have concepted untold hundreds. How did they choose the 20? Elf yourself is the result of failing 19 times. Are you willing to pay to build 20 sites with the hopes that one goes viral? If you take that risk and win you get to do interviews in trade pubs, if you take that risk and lose you spent your bonus on a website about dancing elves. Viral is a risk. Viral isn’t an accident.
The brilliance that made Old Spice Guy viral wasn’t the idea it was the execution. The ridiculous level of client agency trust has been well documented and I won’t re-hash past saying that if you need legal for every status update don’t expect to execute at this level. Old Spice Guy also didn’t conceive it as a way around a small budget. Teams of writers, social, strategists and over hundred videos sounds expensive to me. I would pay to the that scope of work document. Viral is expensive.
It also isn’t just a video, sure cats playing piano occasionally are viral for a couple of hours and get views. This isn’t the same value as an experience or interaction that creates a brand impression. Both Elf and Old Spice Guy were participatory. Viral is engaging.
It is easy for agencies to suggest these risks, but we have an obligation to clients to suggest them in a responsible way and provide realistic counsel. If you want to make a viral video and have $11k to spend we need to not do it. Big things take effort. The $11k video isn’t as big a risk but is almost guaranteed not to go viral. The flip side is clients can’t ask for and expect big and viral results when the insist the project is done in a small way.