My family is quite consistent in behaviour, read: my family is quite consistent in behaviour as set out by my wife, as in which milk, tea brand, masala, bread to use and what programme to watch and on which channel. My son is a teenager so he gravitates between YouTube and dramas. However, both are hooked on Hum TV (for some years) and love their sitcoms and shows. I watch a few dramas and shows along with them. My son especially is a fan of the show Fairy Tale that was broadcast during Ramzan.
He is not the only one. Fairy Tale, with a simple story but with a good cast won audiences over. The hate, and finally, love relationship between Umeed and Farjaad, played by Seher Khan and Hamza Sohail, endeared the show to the public. The antics, the dialogues and the scenes were light-hearted and easy to watch. And Fairy Tale went viral during Ramzan.
Thinking about this, led me to think about the fairy tale of virality. Every brand manager (local, but some international ones too) seems (like Umeed) to be full of hope that there are shortcuts to success and fame and riches in the shape of virality. Just like someone who wants to go on a game show and win the bumper prize, they are aided in this belief by a group of people, who instead of challenging the quest for shortcuts, encourage it.
I’ve been on this earth for four decades and for the life of me I cannot remember when something that went viral changed from being a bad thing like the flu or an illness, to becoming the holy grail of marketing and advertising. Clearly, virality is not a new phenomenon and is strongly linked to the increasing importance the internet has in our lives – as this article published in 2014 on dailydot.com on whether we need a new word for viral highlights states: “Even though the word ‘viral’ wasn’t present in its current incarnation, the effects of virality were. Viral in 1990 meant a newspaper cover, a segment on television, either on a news or entertainment show, and countless water-cooler discussions in offices across the nation. In 2000, it meant being circulated in AOL forwards and posted on forums and usenet groups.”
The article then talks about what makes something viral (being out of the ordinary) and reminds us that prior to Buzzfeed and Upworthy, virality was the exception, not the rule.
Brand managers are not the only people trying to hack the system and generate virality in seemingly organic content. Restaurant owners, celebs, and even ordinary people who create an account on Instagram, TikTok or another social platform, dream of going viral and becoming famous and ultimately rich. They all, like Umeed, want to find the shortcut.
Someone once famously said, “I hope you get what you wish for, so that you know that it is not going to make you content.” In Fairy Tale, Umeed does win a lot of money but finds out a new set of problems that arise. In the same vein, I hope that brand managers and advertising professionals realise that a viral campaign is not the panacea they think it is. People have become obsessed with shortcuts and virality, to the detriment of focusing on what can actually lead to ‘success’.
In one of his talks, the inspirational author and speaker, Simon Sinek spoke about building momentum rather than achieving short-term flash-in-the-pan success. Wise people like him know that virality cannot last and because of the reduced attention span we have at times and the amount of new content that is generated and uploaded, the costs outweigh the benefits. As Taylor Swift sang in Blank Space, ‘We need to know if the high is worth the pain.’ As children, we were exposed to fairy tales and happily ever afters. Now, thanks to Shrek we know that life and success are like ogres and we need to explore the layers. Virality is a fairy tale we need to stop believing in.
Tyrone Tellis is Marketing Manager, Bogo. firstname.lastname@example.org