Go­ing Vi­ral is In­fec­tious

Slogan - - COVER STORY - By Zaira Lakh­pat­wala

“To be or not to be,” de­lib­er­ated Prince Ham­let in Shake­speare’s fa­mous play. While the ref­er­ence might be too dated for to­day’s dig­i­tal age to pay heed to, it is some­thing worth con­sid­er­ing when brands de­cide to go “vi­ral” or, at least, cre­ate vi­ral con­tent. For­tu­nately – or un­for­tu­nately – they can spare them­selves the dilemma sim­ply be­cause vi­ral­ity isn’t a choice. While this might seem ob­vi­ous, advertising ex­perts would have us be­lieve oth­er­wise with some clients still ask­ing them for “vi­ral videos.”

“There’s no right for­mula or recipe; there are a few boxes you tick. Vi­ral­ity is not some­thing we can guar­an­tee. If some­one could guar­an­tee it, they would be in the place of Steve Jobs or Mark Zucker­berg,” says Fadi Khater, founder and man­ag­ing part­ner of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing agency Ne­ti­zency. And if even Jobs and Zucker­berg couldn’t fig­ure out the for­mula to vi­ral­ity, then there’s a good chance it doesn’t ex­ist. Wait a minute But while brands clam­our for vi­ral­ity, it’s prob­a­bly best to take a mo­ment to un­der­stand what the term re­ally means. The term “vi­ral mar­ket­ing” orig­i­nated way back in the 90s and has since emerged, evolved and changed. Ema Li­naker, re­gional di­rec­tor, Holler/Leo Bur­nett, calls vi­ral­ity a “loaded word” say­ing that what peo­ple re­ally mean by vi­ral­ity is a piece of con­tent “that a lot of peo­ple paid at­ten­tion to”. For Richard Fitzger­ald, re­gional di­rec­tor and head of so­cial media at Mind­share MENA, vi­ral­ity is a blurry area. He re­flects back to 2008 and 2009 when vi­ral con­tent was some­thing that was shared through emails in of­fices, but to­day, it is “blur­ring the lines be­tween paid, owned and earned media” and this bal­ance is “cru­cial to vi­ral­ity to­day,” he says.

As the con­cept of vi­ral­ity changes, UM’s busi­ness unit di­rec­tor, An­toine Chal­lita, is los­ing track of what the term means. He says that vi­ral­ity made sense years back when so­cial media was niche, but as so­cial plat­forms be­come main­stream, there’s more con­tent now than ever be­fore – by brands, pub­lish­ers and users. And as the sheer vol­ume of con­tent in­creases, it’s more and more im­por­tant for brands to first make their con­tent dis­cov­er­able and then rel­e­vant to read­ers, just to cre­ate an op­por­tu­nity for read­ers to share it.

“So un­less we’re chang­ing the def­i­ni­tion, vi­ral­ity is ob­so­lete and we’re headed to­ward share­abil­ity,” he says. To fur­ther dis­tin­guish be­tween the two con­cepts, he says “vi­ral­ity was sim­ply the fact that we were con­sum­ing con­tent at a mas­sive scale.” To­day, as ex­em­pli­fied by the ALS Ice Bucket Chal­lenge, peo­ple are not just con­sum­ing con­tent, they are also cre­at­ing their own con­tent and shar­ing it. “It’s no longer as pas­sive as vi­ral­ity was,” he adds. So if the idea of vi­ral­ity has changed – by def­i­ni­tion and func­tion – why are we still talk­ing about it?

“Vi­ral mar­ket­ing is some­thing that will al- ways be talked about, mainly due to the fact that there is no magic in­gre­di­ent or recipe to make it hap­pen,” says Alexan­dra Maia, head of so­cial media at TBWA’s Dig­i­tal Arts Net­work (DAN). More im­por­tantly, the in­dus­try needs to keep talk­ing about it be­cause “brands and agen­cies need to learn and un­der­stand what it re­ally means and that a ‘vi­ral mar­ket­ing’ stunt is not an easy way out when there are no bud­gets avail­able,” she says.

While there has been a change from the con­cept of vi­ral­ity to one of share­abil­ity, even the tra­di­tional idea of vi­ral­ity seems to be evolv­ing. Maia says that in 2011, YouTube we­blebrity Kevin Nalty, aka “Nalts”, said that a few years ago a video could be con­sid­ered vi­ral if it hits a mil­lion views but in 2014 he up­dated that def­i­ni­tion to say that a “vi­ral” video is one that gets more than five mil­lion views in a three-to seven-day pe­riod. False im­pres­sions In­ter­est­ingly, even the “Vi­ral Video Ge­nius” Nalty speaks of vi­ral con­tent in the con­text of videos. Why is it that when one speaks of cre­at­ing a vi­ral piece of con­tent they nat­u­rally tend to say “vi­ral video”?

Another mis­con­cep­tion as­so­ci­ated with vi­ral­ity is the idea that it spreads or­gan­i­cally. Due to the clut­ter and al­go­rithms of so­cial media plat­forms, for a piece of con­tent to reach a sub­stan­tial au­di­ence – who may or may not share it – there needs to be media in­volved in one form or another. Magic in­gre­di­ents

What leads to a piece of con­tent be­ing suc­cess­ful, if not vi­ral. It could be Rel­e­vance, As­so­ci­a­tion or Provo­ca­tion.

These three main in­gre­di­ents should work “in the­ory” but there isn’t any guar­an­tee. The con­tent needs to be rel­e­vant – be it based on ge­og­ra­phy or oc­ca­sion – it should be some- thing out of the or­di­nary if not provoca­tive or con­tro­ver­sial and lastly, it has to be some­thing peo­ple want to as­so­ciate them­selves with or rep­re­sent – whether that’s sound­ing in­tel­lec­tual by talk­ing about po­lit­i­cal is­sues or happy and fun.

Other fac­tors in this con­text could also be Brand, Con­sumer or Emo­tional Rel­e­vance and Plat­form.

First and fore­most, the brand should think about the mes­sage it wants to com­mu­ni­cate and how and if it is rel­e­vant to the con­sumer – ir­re­spec­tive of whether it’s share­able or not.

At the 2013 Os­cars, host Ellen DeGeneres asked Meryl Streep to take a selfie with her that would be as mon­u­men­tal as Streep’s 18 Os­car nom­i­na­tions. Clicked with a Sam­sung Galazy, the selfie ended up be­ing prob­a­bly even more mon­u­men­tal than Streep’s nom­i­na­tions as other stars gath­ered around to take a pic­ture that ended up crash­ing Twit­ter, due to the un­prece­dented high ac­tiv­ity.

The tweet went on to be­come the most pop­u­lar tweet of all time with 3.35 mil­lion retweets and 2.02 mil­lion favourites. It was later dis­cov­ered that the selfie was part of a $20 mil­lion paid spon­sor­ship by Sam­sung. To show their grat­i­tude to DeGeneres, the brand de­cided to do­nate $3 mil­lion to two of her fa­vorite char­i­ties, thus gen­er­at­ing fur­ther media at­ten­tion.

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