The End of “Viral” — I hope

I try to make promises I can keep. This is why my daughter never got for a pony – I figure the decision will either build character for later or help her land a book deal about her horrible childhood, which is cool with me as long as she pays for my retirement (can’t count on the 401k anymore.)

Anyway, here’s another promise: The next person who asks me "how much does a viral video cost" is going to get nothing but silence from my end of the phone – not because I won’t know what to say, but because I will have gone to kill myself (don’t ask me how, just suffice to say it involves old episodes of Punky Brewster, Mr. Belvedere, and an ice pick.)

Seem extreme? Okay, perhaps. But it solves both the problem of having to explain the asinine nature of the question for the 100th time as well as trying to live on a dwindling investment portfolio.

Almost every day someone asks me or one of my colleagues for "viral" ideas or "social media" tactics. Just once I’d like to ask someone how much a front page story in the Los Angeles Times costs and then listen to them emit that sigh of quiet desperation I’ve sounded so many times myself.

How much does a viral video cost? I can’t tell you because no such thing exists. Videos aren’t "viral," they’re videos – fast-moving frames of pixels that form images of cats on skateboards or Chad Vader covering Tay Zonday’s "Chocolate Rain." Now if those pictures tell a compelling or funny story, if they elicit emotion or passion, or if the images are relevant to the viewer, well then, maybe, the people who watch the video will pass it around and tell their friends, thus creating a "viral" effect (and even then you often need a kick-start, usually with some paid media, just to get noticed.)

How much does a viral video cost? I don’t know, how much does a hit movie cost? How much does a car cost? Maybe instead of asking me for the price of a car, you should ask me where you want to go and who you want to talk to when you get there.

Videos aren’t viral – ideas are. Stories are. A crappy idea will still be crappy whether it’s on YouTube or Facebook or anywhere else where people who have eyeballs connected to a visual cortex can see it.

Ask not what a viral video will cost – ask what a great idea that connects with your customers is worth. Then, if you work up enough nerve, go ahead ask for a pony, it couldn’t hurt.

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2 Responses to The End of “Viral” — I hope

  1. Steve Mallory says:

    Yes and yes. Someone asking you for a viral video is like Jack in the Box demanding that you make their new Nacho Chicken Pita the most popular sandwich in America. It doesn’t matter what you say about the sandwich (which sounds delicious) what matters is how good the sandwich tastes. Good sandwich=popular sandwich. Good story=popular video.

  2. David Parmet says:

    Interesting.. I was having that exact same conversation yesterday in the conference room of a certain NY area PR agency.
    And a light bulb went over everyone’s head.
    It’s the idea that’s viral – ah! we get it!!

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