The Myth of Viral Videos

You’d be surprised how often we’re asked by potential clients “Can you make us a viral video like Dollar Shave Club’s?” Well, the short answer is “No, we can’t” because the “quest for virality” is a long-shot — there’s no way to guarantee what goes viral and what doesn’t. But what we CAN do is help you create a video that’s worth sharing.

The definition of a viral video is: “…any clip of animation or film that is spread rapidly through online sharing. Viral videos can receive millions of views as they are shared on social media sites, reposted to blogs, sent in emails and so on.”

In other words, your best strategy is to make something people want to share. Trying to achieve that with your first video is nearly impossible. You have to create, test, and repeat. So whether you need something more business-y like a product demo or something fun like a customer testimonial, your goal should be to quickly create videos that are engaging, shareable, and high quality so you can figure out what types of videos resonate with your audience. Viral videos are fascinating, but they are not a realistic end goal. Aim instead, to develop a steady stream of branded video content that consistently performs.

Once you nail down a formula that works for you, templatization is possible. Look at what Buzzfeed’s Tasty has done with recipe videos, or what NowThis has done for syndicated news. Buzzfeed currently has 200+ million monthly unique viewers of their videos, and 2.2B total monthly video views —that’s insane. And NowThis started acquiring about 51 million new video views on Facebook soon after launching their 9–90 second entertainment/news video clips.

Let’s breakdown what elements go into making a video that’s worth sharing.

Content: The Secret Sauce

Successful video campaigns have a cohesive message, a clear marketing goal, and are targeted to a core, defined audience. Many also have a quick pace and hook the viewer with an almost instant pay-off by getting them to laugh, keep watching, and hopefully share. Old Spice’s much-referenced “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign — 53M views and counting — is a great example of this.

Why were they so successful? For one thing, they understood their target audience — not the men who would be using the products, but the women buying them for their sons, husbands, boyfriends. These videos appealed to these women by conveying the sense that Old Spice would imbue men with all the manly qualities these women desired. So to break it down, they identified the following:

Clear marketing goal: Get people to buy Old Spice

Core audience: Women buying Old Spice for their boyfriends or husbands

Cohesive message: When he uses Old Spice, he will become the man you desire


We have to keep in mind though, that Old Spice already had a known brand and huge audience. What does a successful video campaign look like for a small to medium-sized business?

Let’s look to our client EV-box, leaders in Electric Vehicle charging infrastructures, as an example. They needed explainer & industry news videos for their Facebook channel to introduce how electric charging works and to announce a new $1 billion euro incentive scheme for new electric car drivers in Germany. They did three videos in three different styles, and they saw their organic reach triple. They also saw double the engagement (number of clicks, shares and likes) on these posts compared to other posts.

Client: EV-Box Video Type: News, Animated

Not a bad return for just three videos! Now they can take what they learned and apply it to future videos.

Distribution — Gettin’ Eyes On It

Sticking with the Old Spice example, the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy who created the campaign, cleverly used YouTube as its main source of distribution — tapping into the huge peer-to-peer network to encourage virality.

So, choosing the right channel is extremely important. Format comes into play too — for example a “pre-roll video” is one that runs as an ad before the video the viewer actually clicked on to see. You risk annoying potential customers with this tactic, but most people have come to expect, if not tolerate, video ads. Also, video ads can be a great way to target relevant audiences.

Most videos are in “click to play” format. With click to play, the viewer can choose when to watch the video and it’s significantly easier to share, as you can invite folks to do exactly that by embedding share options on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

Online video social sharing screen

Optimize the Heck Out of It!

You could put out what you think is your best video yet, and still watch it fall flat if it doesn’t resonate with your target audience. So, analytics are your friend — keep an eye on how many plays you get, if people are watching it all the way through, and if the video is driving traffic to your site.

Protip: Use Wistia as a video hosting platform if you plan to distribute videos on your website or blog, as opposed to just on social media channels. They offer excellent analytics, can be linked with your email marketing to generate leads, and will improve your website’s SEO (rather than driving all your traffic to YouTube).

You should also follow these simple best video practices:

Keep it short and to the point. This is especially important for Facebook, because viewers are looking for bite-sized content so you really don’t want to post anything over 45 seconds. Especially since Facebook mutes out all videos when they automatically start playing. So if your video captures someone’s interest, they have to actively enable audio in order to hear it.

Use subtitles. 85% of FB videos are watched without sound, so make sure you use text overlays or at least make it easy go catch the basic idea without a voice over.

Upload directly to Facebook. Facebook favors native videos, which are those uploaded directly to their platform and not a third party channel like YouTube — reports show that they reach 2x times more people, get almost 3x more shares, and 7x more comments.

Then, keep adjusting your video content and format, as well as distribution strategies so you keep focused on what’s working — and A/B test the heck out of them! It’s best if you can create multiple videos on the same topic, but with different scripts and shoots. Humblee can help you with this — our videos are affordable and videographers can work with you on different versions of the same video or a whole campaign to help you optimize. If you sign up for our subscription plan, you get a new video every week and you can choose from 8 different video types, all optimized for social sharing.

If you’re interested in working with us, let us know by requesting an invite.