A History and Guide to Viral Video

Director of Research and Online Marketing
Published 8/24/12
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PBS's 'Off Book' team, which examines the latest trends in art and artists, has produced a fascinating short tour of viral videos.

PBS's 'Off Book' team, which examines the latest trends in art and artists, has produced a fascinating short tour of viral videos.

 The 8-minute, 46-second video looks at the history of viral video and breaks it into three major periods (Watch the Off Book Video):

  1. 2000 - 2006: Accidental Videos, which were usually funny, 'reality moments' and essentially were an extension of ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos.’
  2. 2006 - 2009: The period when remixed and mash up videos emerged, taking familar or pop culture icons or images and presenting them in fresh ways.
  3. 2010 onwards: As online video deepened its reach and variety, new genres in viral content emerged, including more serious themes.

Major types of viral videos:

  • Original ‘Pop Culture’ - mainly comedy productions
  • Advertising Viral Videos - like Dollar Shave Club
  • Cause-Based Video - such as Kony - Lord's Resistance Army Video
  • Change/Protest - first-person reporting videos such as those from the Middle East ‘Spring’  

Successful viral videos usually imply taking risks, which is challenging for many travel marketers, especially those working for DMOs.

Travel has only sporadically appeared as a theme or interest in successful viral videos. One recent example has been Casey Niestat's "Make it Count" (sponsored by Nike). It remains a genre with significant potential given its wide appeal. However, for many travel marketers, concerns about the use of humor and other more 'edgy' formats has limited the upside (and downside) viral potential of online video productions.

Successful viral videos usually imply taking risks, which is challenging for many travel marketers, especially those working for DMOs.  Sometimes the most popular destination videos are produced by locals or entities other than the DMO who can take a humorous and even less-than-flattering look at the destination.

The most well-known examples are the "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Videos" (Part I and Part II), which have each attracted more than 4 million video views each on YouTube. The debate in this situation is how, or even if, the DMO should respond. It can take a deft touch - but as with most social media it is better to be part of the conversation around viral video - either directly or indirectly (through the comments of passionate locals or visitors).  

However, for those marketers wanting to proactively invest in this area, both old content principles and new realities in social media stand out: 

  1. Engage: Viral video must still  connect at a strong, emotional level - the range of which has deepened over time as viral content has broadened.
  2. Share an Identity: Successful viral videos make people proud to be associated with them - empowering viewers to share the content with friends
  3. Curate: People are increasingly becoming curators, aggregators and organizers of content for friends and family.
  4. Speed: Viral video in 2012 now has far greater velocity in its reach and influence - for both positive and negative effect.
  5. “It’s the Wild Wild West”: the types, trends and issues of viral video continues to change rapidly - with an increasing range of content and quality.

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