Every day the amount of content showing up on our screens rises by the minute. We live in a world where more and more people (not just brands) have become content creators and are building audiences thanks to easy-to-use apps such as TikTok, YouTube and more. Yet, despite this saturated mix, many pieces of content have managed to stand out and make an impact, leaving many marketers wishing they could put their brands in the limelight in this way.
So the question is what makes some content ‘viral’, while others, created with the very purpose of achieving virality, fail? Before we ponder this question, let’s define ‘virality’: it is when a piece of content circulates rapidly and widely from one web user to another. In marketing jargon, it is when content organically garners high engagement, mentions and widespread awareness, while instantly achieving Top-of-Mind. Much like a virus.
What Drives Virality?
In about 350 BCE, Aristotle wanted to write a speech and he thought about what would make it both memorable and persuasive. He wanted people to pass the idea on to others and form a kind of chain reaction. In today’s world, this is equivalent to a re-tweet or clicking a share button. In this endeavour, Aristotle identified three principles: ethos (that which possess ethical appeal); pathos (that which appeals to the emotions) and logos (that which contains logical appeal). He also stressed that in each case the message had to be impactful. The same is true today. If virality is the objective, the content must be developed in a highly relatable way and strongly evoke human emotion – whether it’s pleasure, laughter, empathy or even shock. This is one of the reasons why people share cat videos; they are heart-warming and pleasing to watch.
If They Look Good, You Look Good!
Content has to be positive and have a bigger takeaway than (for example) encouraging people to buy a brand of ceiling fan. Another important factor to consider when developing viral content, is what is in it for the audience. Think about why anyone would share a piece of information. For example, people like to share a laugh with their friends and family (which is why people prefer to share something like ‘aam khaayega aam’, or ‘yeh gormint bik gai hai’, rather than a song- and-dance routine). The UN Women Pakistan’s Child Bride campaign went viral because of its shock-effect; the recent resurfacing of the Servis shoes commercial shows how much people enjoyed the original jingle. The key takeaway is that brands on their own can never become viral, they must connect with the audience on a deeper level through the use of different creative elements.
The Right Content for the Right Purpose
It is not uncommon for clients to ask for campaigns that go viral, without really understanding what this entails – especially when they want the product to become the hero of the campaign. For many brand managers achieving virality may be a goal, but does it really substantiate something for the brand or the business in the long run? Imagine that a bank wants to launch a campaign to promote a financial service and decides it should go viral in order to build widespread awareness. In this case, every idea will be scrutinised from the point of view of its potential to go viral. If the product is a dry financial service (and needs to be to focal point of the campaign) how likely is it that audiences will share the content far and wide? Going viral should not be an end in itself; it must meet the brand and business objectives.
Virality Cannot be Forced
Let’s face it, no matter how good a campaign you develop, nobody can predict how viral it may become - audience response is always organic in the case of viral content. Many brands use other techniques to achieve virality, but often fall flat on their faces– such as using trend-jacking techniques. Piggybacking the brand on an ongoing conversation may get it noticed, but will the brand message register in the minds of the target audience? Another example is when brands partner with content creators to integrate their products. Even if this content manages to go viral, is it because of the brand, or the nature of the content itself? Ufone’s Teri Mehrbaani commercial was an instant hit because people remembered it for the tongue-in-cheek humour, while the notion of voice clarity was subtly embedded in the concept. As long as the concept integrates seamlessly with the brand while remaining insightful and relatable to human emotions and experiences, virality can always be achieved.
Finally here are some tips if you want to create content with the potential to go viral: 1. Think about how going viral will help you achieve your objective. 2. Look for insights. 3. Put the idea first and the product after. 4. Use hashtags. 5. Humanise the content. 6. Bring influencers on board. 7. Pray it works!
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy at Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising program at SZABIST-Karachi.