THE BLOG

The Viral Obsession

16/01/2015 11:30 GMT | Updated 17/03/2015 09:59 GMT

The entertainment industry has become fixated with creating virals - content that we, as a generation obsessed with sharing, have become the advocates for. Content that attracts millions of views, fast. However, this obsession with creating the 'next big thing' has resulted in us being bombarded by a barrage of low-quality content that neither entertains nor inform us of anything and we aren't likely to action on. This repetitive stream of content isn't the way to our hearts - it's certainly not helping brands create the 'ultimate' viral and it's not giving us anything that embellishes our lives. So, here are some thoughts to consider when creating content (not virals).

Virals still have a place...

It's not a case of us not liking them. You only need to look at your newsfeed to come across a piece of content doing the rounds online. It's just that we don't want brands to specifically try and create virals. As Pam Pines at Danone said recently: "a virus is unpredictable and irrational and that's no way to approach effective marketing" - by its very nature, viral content isn't something brands should expect to be able to create. It should be a result not an aim.

...but brands can't just create them

As more brands try to create viral success, we're becoming more cynical as consumers. Given the number of brands that have tried to sell to us under false pretences this is hardly surprising. Take the video of strangers kissing - at first this was beautiful and moving, but later revealed to be acted out by models and an advertisement for a clothing brand and suddenly perceptions of the campaign shifted. Or how about the sexual assault PSA that turned out to be a hoax? In the mission to shock and raise awareness, the serious consequences for the 'street harassers' that were tricked into performing were overlooked as publishers rushed to ensure they didn't miss out on potential traffic and let competing sites beat them to the story.

Too much, too soon

That's the integral problem with viral content - in a rush to get it out there, and in a rush to share; we may be spreading misinformation and dubious content or simply just ignoring the less exciting context, leading to the extrapolation of incorrect conclusions that can have some darker consequences.

The biggest challenge is ensuing authenticity.

Virals need to ignite an emotional response in us in order for us to share them, but at the same time they need to remain authentic to our view of ourselves. Too often, the desire to generate an emotional response can go wrong. The Sainsbury's Christmas advert is a pertinent reminder of this. It's romanticising of the First World War in a bid to replicate the John Lewis adverts of recent times has already led to 727 complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency - popular opinion is that there's something unpalatable about using a horrific event that killed so many to increase profits.

The key is for brands not to chase the big numbers. A viral is great but actually, all we want as consumers is high-quality content that gives us something - be that information or a few minutes of entertainment. This is why so many YouTubers are now bigger than 'traditional' celebrities - they give us something we want and we have a sense of synergy with them. We feel they know us and share our values. So brands take notice, understand your consumer, uncover the stories and find a way to tell these that will resonate with your audience.

A desire to distinguish

Content is a fantastic creative canvas to play in and yet we keep seeing the same content everywhere. Freed from the tyranny of the 30-second spot, a brand should start to live-out its brand personality and messaging in an entirely new and fresh way. They need to distinguish themselves from everyone else.

Only by doing so will we as consumers engage with the content more. And in doing so, share it more which in turn will create a successful campaign for a brand. Take for example Dove, Evian or Chipotle; by liberating themselves from their obsession with virals, they actually ended up with a viral hit. Ultimately we have the power to make or break any campaign and brands must take note before jumping into the viral obsession.