August 28, 2018Published by: Kieran Moriarty

Kiki, Alli and Ice Buckets: the secret recipe for a viral video

If, like us, you’re never off Instagram, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the ‘Kiki Challenge’ recently – it’s the latest viral video craze to take social media by storm. The concept is simple: participants are filmed dancing to Drake’s latest single In My Feelings, with some going so far as to bust a move alongside moving cars (of course, Battenhall doesn’t condone such a reckless disregard for road safety).

It’s joined the Fortnite dance, the Mannequin and Ice Bucket challenges and, most recently, the Dele Alli goal celebration, on the long list of bizarre viral trends that have transcended social networks and entered into popular culture; all these pieces of content generated huge viewing figures and widespread engagement with a diverse range of audiences.

Videos like the Kiki Challenge have achieved viral status because they actively invite participation from viewers to replicate the stunt in their own style; it’s uncontrolled and spreads as people interact with the content.

There are seemingly no rules on what works and what doesn’t either. Thanks to the ease with which social media enables users to share video content with huge audiences, anything from big brand ad campaigns to user-generated videos captured on a phone can go viral if the concept and conditions are right.

Naturally, brands love the idea of virality. The prospect of getting millions of people to watch and positively engage with their content, to the extent that it secures worldwide public exposure and media coverage, is the Holy Grail. As a result, creative media agencies are often inundated with proposals from big brands asking them for help to produce their own ‘viral video’.

Unfortunately, the idea of making something ‘viral’ reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about how and why content sometimes breaks the internet. It’s impossible to make a guaranteed viral video, with a host of factors needing to align to ensure that video achieves the rapid-fire spread and engagement required.

If you were going to draw up a viral blueprint though, the first thing the content must do is elicit a powerful response from the user in order to capture the imagination. Things that shock us, make us laugh, or move us to tears, are what get shared by millions of people, and user-generated content is particularly effective in getting these responses.

It is more difficult for big brands to trigger the same effect, but it’s not impossible, especially if there’s a powerful message to broadcast. A perfect recent example of this is the BBC’s recent ‘Leading Lady’ video.

Timing, global events, pop culture – all these things are factors that can play a part, but probably the most important of all is the transmission of the video. Once a clip is picked up and posted by big media platforms or influential accounts, it can spread around the world in a matter of hours.

But, and there’s always a but, while creating a viral video can give a brand huge exposure and boost its public profile, companies should always be aware of the flipside and getting exposure for the wrong reasons. A poorly-conceived video can be embarrassing, humiliating and, in the worst case, hugely damaging to a brand’s reputation.

So remember, it’s incredibly difficult to have a viral hit. For every Nike ‘In The Crowd’ ad, there are hundreds of failed attempts from brands trying to create viral gold. The key thing for brands to remember is not to force it with overblown expectations. Instead, focus on developing an idea and delivering a high-quality, well-executed video, that will promote a highly effective message and engage with a wide-ranging audience. After that, it’s a case of sitting back and seeing if it really is possible to catch lightning in a bottle.

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