How do you make a viral video? Chattanooga ad firm finds YouTube success

How do you make a viral video? Chattanooga ad firm finds YouTube success

September 27th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

It spread to hundreds of thousands last week, and local ad exec Joe Johnson expects the infection count soon to rise past 1 million.

After leaving the The Johnson Group advertising agency, Johnson hoped it would spread to a few hundred, maybe even a few thousands, but he could only dream his viral video "Neighborhood Kids Choreograph Water Show" would pass 700,000 views.

"It's very tricky because you really can't make a viral video," he said. "The main thing is you've got to gauge what people think is going to be interesting."

Viral videos, online videos shared by hundreds of thousands, are often short, funny clips interesting enough to email to friends or post on Facebook. Though thousands are likely created every day, David Moon, group leader of the Social Media Alliance of Chattanooga, said fewer than 1 percent of those hit the mysterious benchmarks needed to infect computer screens everywhere.

That becomes more difficult when the videos are business motivated. No one wants to feel as if he is being sold to, Moon said.

"There are only a few examples of commercial viral videos," he said, noting there are many more of cats playing a piano.

Though it's impossible to guarantee their success, hitting some common viral video themes seems to help. Children and animals doing something funny are often winners, but there's no standard formula.

The Johnson Group created a roughly two- minute video of students from UTC and Ooltewah and Boyd-Buchanan high schools. The students are armed with squirt guns emulating the Bellagio Hotel and Casino's Las Vegas fountains for pool chemical company HTH: Pool and Spa Care.

MSN picked up the video after it had been incubating online since July, prompting its rapid rise toward a million views.

Those views didn't cost HTH very much, according to Johnson. Some campaigns can be pricey, such as Old Spice's body wash ad featuring a witty muscle man or a recent Smartwater campaign with Jennifer Aniston and puppies.

Videos that go viral are often inexpensive. In fact, the more they look homemade, the more successful they tend to be, according to Moon. But because of their low success rate, investing in a viral video is always a roll of the dice.

For smaller businesses, it can be difficult to tell if that gamble pays off. A video could be a success at 200 views if all those views were by customers who end up using the business's services.

Conversely, when videos hit the big time their businesses might not care if it was seen by ten million people if most of those people live in Asia.

But the raw numbers aren't what's important, Johnson said.

"The views are just part of it. It's the talk," he said. "It's the best type of advertising because it's word of mouth."

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