Seems many marketers are in search of the epic viral hit these days. “Make a video and make it go viral,” they say. Seems simple on the surface. Heck, if a cat spinning from a ceiling fan or a chemist blending things that aught not to be blended can garner millions of hits, how hard can it be?
Yet the secret sauce eludes for most.
The whole question of what makes something go viral really hit home for me this week. I was one of over 41 million (at last count) that viewed the Jean-Claude Van Damme “Epic Split” Youtube video. To put that in perspective, the 2011 Superbowl VW commercial “The Force” took 22 days to get over 40 million views online. This Volvo spot achieved that in just 9 days. The curious thing I found about it all was this:
1. I was TOLD about it verbally first. It wasn’t shared online, at least not initially. It was the conversation value, and the urging to view it that had people buzzing.
2. It was for Volvo trucks and Volvo’s precision steering, arguably not likely to be at the top of my “urgent purchase” list.
Both of these points run counter to what we’ve traditionally thought to be the secret sauce for going viral. So what was it then about this particular spot that made it so compelling? If you haven’t seen it yet, you REALLY must. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7FIvfx5J10
1. The element of mystery. Initially, you’re not sure what is going to happen, and then once the split takes place, you can’t believe it. It’s both a human and mechanical engineering feat. Apparently it was done in one take after three days of rehearsals. It begs to be watched over and over again.
2. We want to share it, because by sharing we have become authors of distributing good content to our friends. We look smart and in the know.
3. The voice over is brilliant. Arguably Van Damme could be ordering breakfast, “I’ll have the bacon and eggs” in his sexy voice and accent, and half the population would swoon. With vulnerability and defiance he states: “I’ve had my ups and downs. My fair share of bumpy roads and heavy winds. That’s what made me what I am today. Now I stand here before you. What you see is a body crafted to perfection…” It really doesn’t matter at this stage if you’re selling automotive engineering. We’re hooked.
4. The audio is calming, haunting and ever so retro. When Enya’s “Only Time” kicks in at the moment the trucks begin the split, the spot begins to achieve theatrical quality. The fact that Google search for the audio track “Only Time” has spiked dramatically indicates an entire new generation has discovered the moody and reflective powers of Enya. “Who can say where the road goes… only time…”
5. The visual is breathtaking and the colour palette deliberate. Shot in Spain at sunrise, the natural colours are sky blue and a slowly emerging golden sun. Cast on that canvas are gold Volvo trucks with black accents, and Van Damme in a blue shirt and black pants. The yellow and blue are complimentary colours. Deliberate and brilliant.
6. The branding is subtle. There is no Volvo logo and no mention of Volvo in the audio. In fact the only identity to Volvo is the logo on the front of the trucks and the appearance of the companies name simply in screen type in the middle of a sentence at the end. This spot appears more like a short film and entertainment then a commercial. Wow – how many clients who spent the kind of money this spot took to produce would be willing to be so subtle?
This video has spawned over 50 related videos in under a week. Two parodies are notable:
Jenko’s Epic Split filmed on the set of 22 Jump Street with food carts: (over 5 million views and counting) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMlpiey20b8
Rob Ford’s Epic Split: (over 1 million views – and do we really need to keep counting???) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRdXOr-uYlU
So what can we learn from all this? Give folks something they can share and look good to their friends. Keep it short (just over a minute) but give us a theatrical experience being mindful of colour, audio and filming angles. Be subtle. Entertainment wins over selling.