Phil Bilbrough: Oh Oh Viral Video….

Oh Oh Viral Video

By Phil Bilbrough

I love these. There is nothing on this Earth that flaps my flippers more than viral videos. That is until a client says, “Lets do a Viral Video!”

Am I scared of doing a viral video? I’m not scared, but it does make me twitch a bit. A client wanting to do a viral video is kinda like floating the idea of your family holidaying with your friend’s family. The idea is euphoric, the execution is terrible, the relationships are doomed. This is viral video.

I’ll get to the point. A viral video gets emailed between people who aren’t in the least bit connected to the brand that the video promotes or the agency that produced it. If a video goes viral its distribution happens organically and for free. People chose to send it to friends, and those friends send it to other friends.

One of the first viral videos was this one from John West. The creative director claimed it was always his intention to make it viral, but the story goes that the viral campaign began fortuitously when he emailed a digital version to a friend.

If it goes “viral” it means that a lot of people see it. Perhaps you could produce a good viral campaign for $50-$70K (maybe much more), and reach over five million people, maybe double that. The cost of reaching the same number of people through through paid promotion would cost several $million.

So the payoff for viral videos or viral campaigns is potentially astronomic. So what is the downside?

The virility of a campaign begins and ends with the creative concept. Advertising creatives know what kinds of things go viral, but convincing a client that those same things need to be in their video is another matter. As much as clients like the reward of a viral campaign, it can be difficult to reconcile the personality of a viral video/campaign with an organisation’s brand.

Viral is surprising, ludicrous and fun. It is edgy yet entertaining. It is this edgy, sexy, sick, un-pc quality that just doesn’t fit with many brands. Viral needs to appeal to the voyeur in us – they are on the dark fun side.

So an agency presents a concept and the client freaks out (or the client’s stakeholders have a kitten), the project is halted, or worse, the concept gets sanitized and fails.

The client isn’t in control of a viral video. Clients hear these words, yet if you look into their eyes you can see those words bounce around inside their skulls like an old video tennis game. Finally the words beat the bat and disappear off the screen.

Viral campaigns are unlikely to work to the client’s timeline. A viral video launched for a summer promotion may go viral in autumn. The viral video may still be bouncing around the net long after the client’s campaign has finished. A client may actually want to go to market with another message, but the viral video is still out there with last year’s message.

A global brand may get real benefit out a viral video, but its harder to see a benefit for a local company who sells to New Zealanders. A great viral campaign reaches a lot of people and some of those will be your client’s target audience, but you might want to recommend a media strategy that reaches the client’s audience for sure.

My guidelines for a viral video:

1. Government departments should never ever consider viral. Yeah bit hang on, I did notice an informative video about Swine Flu – so maybe there is a context where people would pass on a serious video.

2. Viral videos are a gag – there is a setup and a punch line. The setup should be realistic, the punchline ludicrous.

3. Viral videos are not an intellectual exercise. I think this was a mistake we made with Scoop’s viral video. It was nicely aligned with the brand, but too cerebral.

4. Viral videos firstly and foremost entertain. If they don’t they won’t go viral.

Check out the month’s top 10 Viral Campaigns from Adage.

I went looking for a viral video of a young man firing a sky rocket from his ass. It came through a couple of years ago and to my mind the combination of reality and laughing at this guy’s stupidity illustrated the personality of a viral video. My YouTube search didn’t find that video, but found 20 or 30 others just like it. I had stumbled on a sub-culture of people lighting fireworks from their asses, videoing it and posting it.


Phil Bilbrough is a freelance online advertising specialist who has recently begun blogging on the subject for Scoop at He can be contacted at

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  1. regan, 8. May 2009, 17:59


    Can you write an article about the Telecom XT campaign?

    Am itching to comment!


  2. Rosalea, 15. June 2009, 10:00

    Perhaps I’m just not seeing something on youtube pages, but it really frustrates me that YouTube doesn’t show the date a video was posted.

    Have you seen this takeoff on Bye Bye American Pie: Mad Ave Blues?

  3. Sheldon (Marketing Consultant, Tauranga), 9. September 2009, 12:01

    Interesting, so would you agree that a corporate viral video needs these 3 components?:
    1. It must be entertaining/hilarious/amazing
    2. It must have a business objective, a reason for being
    3. A mechanism so that people can connect with you and become a customer

    Infact, I’ve written an article about this too:

  4. Phil, 9. September 2009, 23:00

    Hi, yes I would agree that a viral video needs those 3 components that you list. For me, your point 1 is the crux. Many videos may contain all 3 components but never go viral. It is point 1 that makes a video go viral – the attitude or that X-factor that turns a digital video into a viral video. And factor is hard to find and often when it is found the client can’t reconcile it (the x-factor) with their brand.


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