Are viral videos a boon for business?

Brands today are caught in a perfect storm within social media. They are trying to balance the impact of using social to maximise sales, with the benefits of increasing their share of voice. With a click of Facebook’s ‘Like’ button, sharing has now become a broadcast activity.

On the other hand, demand for online video content by information seekers is rising at an explosive rate across the globe. People just seem to love browsing for information in video format due to better understanding and a more apt description of the required information.

YouTube, the undisputed king of video content, is now the second largest search engine after its parent Google with over three billion search queries per month, signifying a whopping demand for video content rather than information in text format.


This brings forth the beauty of viral videos. When people watch your content and choose to ‘Like’ it, you have entertained and engaged with them – they want to find out more about your company and see more content in the future.

Viral videos are a great way of getting away from the interruption of pushing messages at people, and instead using entertainment and emotional connections to encourage consumers to pull your message to them.

They are being used more by brands that want a meaningful dialogue with advocates online along with the mark of a message that has potential to fire a viral phenomenon in its quality of being earthy, spontaneous and identifiable with the messenger.

Every kind of content has the potential to go viral when a consumer becomes the marketing channel. The key to success is making content funny and provocative or to portray your brand in a different light. Then people will want to engage with it.

For a brand that does TV advertising, viral videos are a great way of reaching out to a younger, tech-savvy, trendier demographic which is becoming harder to reach on TV than older age groups.

However, brands can trick themselves into thinking they have got a good social media following when they actually have not. It is all too easy to offer competition prizes and then sit back to watch Facebook ‘Likes’ go up, and confuse that with people wanting to engage with them.

Viral marketing is no longer a matter of brands getting lucky with an infectious piece of content. These days, viral content is meticulously planned to ensure it reaches as many people as possible and the social nature is built in from the start. Marketers must consider multiple issues, including timing, distribution across both traditional and digital channels and what content attracts the correct audience.

The fragmentation of media means brands have to create content or ideas that engage the audience and appeal on an emotional level – often through humour, shock, entertainment, sexiness or by simply telling a great story. It should be viral-like, so contagious that people cannot help but pass it on. Brands thus need to engage with relevant bloggers and online influencers.

India woke up to viral videos somewhat recently with south India’s superstar Dhanush singing "Why This Kolaveri Di" (meaning Why This Murderous Rage, Girl?). The song was officially released on November 16, 2011 and instantly went viral on social networking sites for its quirky ‘Tanglish’ (Tamil and English) lyrics.

Within three weeks of its release on YouTube, the video garnered 19 million views and was shared by 6.5 million Facebook users. It was drawing more than 10,000 tweets daily by the end of its first online week. Having garnered over 45 million views so far, it has proved that viral marketing works in India too.                                                                       

Last year, Google India’s video ad ‘Reunion’, went viral on YouTube. It took the social media by storm and was viewed more than 1.6 million times before officially debuting on television two days later.

Anything can go viral – even an e-mailer. The idea is the key. Virals are not born, they are made. The idea has to grab you.

The three main qualities needed to go viral are:

  • The Content: Ideas and execution are critical, like in the case of Google’s ‘Reunion’. At times, even something unexpected has the potential to spread. Kolaveri Di incidentally was one such piece of content – completely unexpected, but it still connected.
  • The Impetus: It is provided either via advertising or by piggy-backing on a popular social media person's feed. This need not be a celebrity but any popular social media individual whose views are followed by many. Such people introduce the content to a larger audience. The result is an accelerated start. That is the power of digital media.
  • The Participation: Consumer participation is what makes the content stay fresh. Consumers create their own versions, upload and share.

Viral messages spread very rapidly. Brands, on the contrary, need stories and messages to stay afloat in the social network for a longer duration. That is where marketers' infatuation with social media networks ends. And a durable romance starts.

Chhavi Leekha, Group President, Brand and Corporate Communications, Spice Global

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