You Can't Have Jennifer Aniston, but You Can Have Good Content

There's Nothing Funny About Lazy Attempts at Viral Video

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A few months ago, Smart Water launched a viral video starring Jennifer Aniston and a whole cast of outrageous characters. Jennifer is one of the most beautiful women of our generation. As if that wasn't not enough, they tossed in CGI babies dirty dancing, a host of other viral "celebrities" and had Jennifer kick some geeky guy in the crotch for a cheap laugh as she apologized, "Sorry, but that 's apparently worth 100,000 hits." The video is great. It has more than 9 million views and seamlessly integrates Smart Water throughout.

The point is that the viral bar is now very high. Virtually every brand is trying to go viral with unique content. Unfortunately, I think many are forgetting that the key to success is incredibly strong content. You can't just simply put a cool video online and expect it to go viral because there is an effective seeding strategy. The one consistent element of successful viral videos is that they are outrageous: outrageously funny, outrageously dangerous, outrageously beautiful or even outrageously educational.

I consistently see Fortune 500 brands make two mistakes. The first is to eliminate production quality. Yes, some viral videos are shot on hand-held cameras, but that is a benefit of great content, not a creative strategy. Poor production is not synonymous with viral. The second is to use outtakes from TV ads. Additional footage of a star from a 30-second spot is interesting, but it is far from outrageous and absolutely will not go viral. Outtakes can work, but to drive volume metrics, the additional content needs to be unique and compelling. To drive engagement metrics, all of the content must have your brand integrated into the story. For example, Jennifer splashes Smart Water on herself then transitions the sexy maneuver into a joke.

While seeding poor videos is ineffective, even worse is that they actually produce negative equity. A company promoting a trying-to-be-viral flop is like the guy who drops an inappropriate joke at a dinner party -- everyone walks away feeling bad.

Time is limited, and consumers have even more entertainment options than can be measured. We need to create content that consumers actively seek out and put in the additional effort to share. From a behavioral standpoint, you are asking for fundamentally more from consumers than simply watching a 30-second TV ad, so the content should be fundamentally better.

Jennifer Aniston is kicking guys in the crotch for a cheap laugh. Red Bull has guys jumping off cliffs from 3,000 feet. Richard Simmons is turning Air New Zealand's pre-flight video into an '80s aerobics class. What have you got?

Jeff Rosenblum is founding partner of Questus, a digitally led advertising agency with offices in New York and San Francisco.
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