You can’t create viral

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Two things prompted this blog. The first was the news that the Gangnam Style video had overtaken Justin Bieber as the most viewed post on YouTube. The second was when I took a brief that included the dreaded phrase “they want something viral.”

The news about Gangnam Style pleased me a little bit. After all, I’m one of the first to celebrate when the Bieber gets taken down a peg or two – anyone who displays this level of stupidity deserves everything they get in my book.

But the triumph of Gangnam Style also showed why the brief I took was asking the impossible. If, six months ago, you’d asked anybody what would come out on top in a battle between a video by the biggest teen heartthrob on the planet or one by an obscure South Korean rapper, I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would have been. And, personally I still can’t see why Psy’s annoying tune has become so popular. But obviously 805 million viewers see it differently.

And that’s the point about virality. It’s all down to personal taste. Which is why nobody can predict it. Yes, you can study the form – what’s become popular and what hasn’t. You can make something you think is bound to go viral. And you can market it as much as you want. But there’s no secret formula you can follow.

For example, some of the most popular YouTube videos have been completely spontaneous (Fenton anyone?). But there are millions of other spontaneous videos on YouTube that languish with just a few views. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it.

So, clients – please don’t ask your creative team to come up with something ‘viral’. Because ultimately, you’ll all be on a hiding to nothing.