3 Things We Learned from Our Most Viral Video

1. There is a difference between viral and disruptive. To a lot of people, viral just means views — a few hours on the front page of Reddit, an enthusiastic re-tweet from one of the lesser Kardashian’s — but a disruptive video provokes a transformation within the viewer, inciting a real-world action beyond simply sharing a video. It’s easy to post a link on Facebook, it’s harder to throw out your Mach 5 and subscribe to Dollar Shave Club. After our video* went viral we were flooded with inquiries to license or franchise out our slow motion booth. We were contacted by marketing directors in companies as diverse as Beats by Dre and Martha Stewart Magazine. We were even invited to Snoop Dogg’s (Lion’s?) birthday party by a personal vaporizer company. I’m still sad that one didn’t happen (we were already booked to shoot at Yale). A little over a year later there are slow motion booth companies in every city in the US and many abroad (Australia, France, UK, New Zealand, Philippines) who’s entire business is based on our video. That’s crazy to think about.

2. Give away your secrets. All the emails we received could be broken down into just five groups:

  1. Professionals that wanted to license our technology or buy our leads
  2. Companies that found us, looked through our other work and wanted to hire us as a creative agency
  3. Press requests
  4. People who could afford to fly us out to wherever they were to shoot their event.
  5. The largest group — people that saw the video, wanted the booth, and couldn’t afford it.

We’re a small team. At the time, there were just six of us. It seemed impossible to keep up with demand in any meaningful way so we made the decision to make a couple of quick tutorials for people. The first showed how we had done it and the second was a tutorial on doing it with more modest (consumer grade) equipment.

Some of the people we know in our industry seemed surprised that we were so willing to “give away” our secrets (never mind that nothing we did was proprietary or really unique). Really, it just came down to execution and I saw tutorials as a way of continuing the conversation. I believed that if we made what we did accessible, not only would it not end the inbound leads, I felt we’d get even more. And that’s what happened. Unfortunately, we weren’t as prepared for that as we thought. Which leads to…

3. Say yes when opportunity presents itself but mind the details. When the video went big we were already overbooked. My job suddenly became full-time email answering. Instead of reaching out for help or devising a real system for communication, I tried to do everything myself and customer service suffered. I could be lightning fast responding the first time and then it could take me up to a week or longer to respond again. I met every new potential project with a discomfiting mix of excitement and reluctance, and eventually I began to resent the opportunities a little. That’s just insane.

In my attempt to regain some control over our workload, I priced us out of some really great events — Elle Magazine, the NFL, and so on. This was dumb. There was suddenly too much work and when opportunities didn’t manifest it was almost a relief. I told myself it had been an experiment, not part of our core business and I needed time and distance to determine how I would really want to take advantage of the success of it. This was a mistake. Time and distance is what you get when people stop caring And success isn’t what happens when you get opportunities, it’s what you hope happens when you take advantage of them.

  • Note: This links to the alternate version we posted after Vimeo received a DMCA takedown request from the RIAA. Our original video was set to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.

Michael Gaston is the Creative Director for Super Frog Saves Tokyo. You can find him at SFST.com

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