The moment I watched my first viral video is indelibly etched into my memory. The year was 2005 and I was working for HBO. It was a cold winter day and I was sitting at my desk in a production office on 6th Avenue in NYC. An email arrived in my inbox with a large attachment. The email was from a friend, (though really more an acquaintance) with the subject “YOU GOTTA WATCH THIS”. My curiosity outweighed my fear of contracting a deadly computer virus, so I opened it. I found myself watching the infamous “Numa Numa” video. Ever heard of it?
After I finished laughing, my first thought was to feel bad for the guy, whose name I later learned was Gary Brolsma. What kind of friends did the guy have who would send out what was obviously a private video? But that didn’t stop me from forwarding it on…That summer, YouTube launched and Gary Brolsma was released from the shackles of unknown websites and dodgy emails. Views gained by the thousands and for a time, Brolsma was freaked out by the attention and went into hiding for a about a year.
Recently some have declared that the ‘viral video’ is dead. This is total B.S. I agree that the TERM ‘viral video’ is getting a bit tired, but online video that is spread by viewers is not dead – in fact the phenomenon continues to grow. The Internet and social media are by their nature ‘viral’ or let’s call it ‘interactive’ – nah, that’s way too 1990s – participatory? Let’s put it this way, today people are active viewers rather than passive consumers of media. Media isn’t pushed to us by conglomerates, more and more often it’s spread by us. There are three main types of viral video (I’m going to keep using that until someone comes up with something better) that show up:
- Amateur videos
- Professional or Prosumer produced content
Amateur online video runs the whole gamut of whacky sh*t. Funny pet videos, fail videos, cute kids, double rainbows, stoned kids coming back from the dentist… They can rack up phenomenal view counts but they tend to be spontaneous and difficult to follow-up on.
Professional or prosumer content includes virals such as Blendtec’s ‘Will it blend’ commercial featuring their high-end blenders devouring everyday items ranging from iPhones to sneakers. A friend of mine recently mentioned that her ten year old son asked for a Blendtec blender for his Birthday – (now *that’s* powerful viral marketing). That said, Blendtec is probably the most successful viral ad campaign and it has received about 140 million views. Not too shabby.
But let’s consider the viewership of a videoblogger such as Ray William Johnson. Johnson has created a simple but eye catching set backdrop, has a strong presence (like or him or not) and blogs on his thoughts on the latest Youtube videos which tend to be edgy and humorous (mainly amateur content). Johnson is consistently at the top of YouTube charts, averaging about 1.5 million views per day for his videos…day after day. Add up his total viewership and you wind up in the hundreds of millions. Why?
First, humor plays a big part in the success of many viral videos and Johnson uses humor throughout. Second, Johnson is able to inexpensively produce videos day after day. He has no $ barrier and little time barrier. To build a viral video brand requires a consistent output of content and Ray provides. Third, he is authentic – his style comes naturally out of his personality so it doesn’t feel like a ‘schtick’ as it might if a hired host for a TV show tried to pull off the same thing. (Incidentally there was a TV show that tried to feature the best of YouTube, but the name escapes me. Anyone see it? The show was cancelled). Finally – Johnson involves his viewers – he includes their video questions and responses within his own videos – his videoblog is active, not passive.
And Johnson is not the only example (nor is he my favorite videoblogger – sorry Ray). For example there is also Michael Buckley (“What the Buck”), Community Channel (Natalie Tran – the most subscribed YouTube Channel in all of Australia), Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Wine Library TV”, Shaytards (so annoying I can’t stop watching) and many, many others.
Things have evolved considerably since the Numa Numa days. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that video blogs that are authentic and creative tend to find their own audience. Video blogs tend to become the most viral viral videos when looking at the phenomena as a whole. Johnson himself says that he proudly plays to the common denominator and he’s rewarded for that – but that just happens to be what he enjoys. Today Gary Brolsma’s “Numa Numa” video is at seven hundred million views and counting (not to mention an ad deal with Geico) and I’ve long since stopped feeling sorry for him. I should add that he owes his friends a few drinks.