Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.
So you want to bag a viral video? Join the club.
Every organization out there, it seems, is trying to nail this elusive unicorn.
Yet it turns out there is no template for making your video go wild on the internet, says Benton Crane, chief executive officer of Harmon Brothers, a Utah agency behind some of the most viral ads in internet history.
In his Ragan Training video, “Secrets to make your videos so good, they don’t have to go viral,” Crane warns that you cannot predict virality. Instead, he seeks to create videos that deliver return on investment while building “beloved brands that we can connect with, that we resonate with,” he says.
The good news for communicators is that this plays to our strengths as storytellers. Crane addresses his remarks to marketers, but his lessons are equally relevant to PR and internal communications pros.
Here are a few of the pointers he offers:
1. Make your videos character-driven.
Crane notes that when an ad is generic—not character-driven—you can switch the logo on an ad and it still works. Consider The North Face’s “Never Stop Exploring” ad of a travel bag on an airport carousel. You could swap the logo with Patagonia and the ad would still work, Crane says.
Character, on the other hand, makes the connection stick. When Dos Equis switched actors for its “most interesting man in the world” campaign, fans rebelled.
“They built a beloved character that we connect with, that we resonate with, and then they tried to replace him, and it didn’t go super well for them,” Crane says.
Crane’s agency produced a video featuring a harried mom for Chatbooks. The campaign paid for itself in 48 hours. Mothers were texting and emailing each other links to the video and saying, “This is me. This is you. I relate.”
“We’ve built this character with the intent on connecting with real moms,” Crane says. “The response to this was just off the charts.”
2. Your brand character is Obi-Wan, not Luke.
The hero’s journey—as outlined by author and speaker Donald Miller—goes like this: A character has a problem. That character meets a guide who provides a plan to solve the problem and calls the hero to action. That ends in success—or at least helps the hero avoid failure.
In “Star Wars,” Luke Skywalker’s problem is the Empire. He meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, who teaches him to trust the Force, and calls on him to go defeat the Empire. Luke blows up the Death Star, and the rebellion is saved.
In videos, the customer is the hero. Your character must be the guide, as in the case of the Grill God, a figure who materializes to help a suburbanite produce restaurant-quality meat in a campaign created by Crane’s firm.
“Grill God comes along and provides him with the plan, which is the Woodwind Grill,” Crane says.
3. Make your call to action value-driven.
The hero—your customer or audience—wants the guide, or your brand character, to call them to action.
Consider Nike’s campaign with Michael Jordan. “‘Just do it,’ right?” Crane says. “That’s a call to action. He’s the guide. We all want to be like Michael Jordan.”
4. Shoot a video that’s fitting yet surprising.
Your video should suit your organization, yet offer a surprise, Crane says. He cites an ad by Snuggie, a blanket with sleeves that resembles a monk’s robe. The video fits the brand, but is tediously predictable.
Then there’s Outpost.com, which offers an ad that’s plenty surprising: wolves being released on a football field to devour members of a high school marching band. (Really.) But how fitting is it?
“It’s actually pretty attention-grabbing, right?” Crane says. “But I have no idea what Outpost.com is.”
And then there’s FiberFix, which appealed to do-it-yourself homeowners, NASCAR enthusiasts, auto repair buffs and others. Harmon Brothers helped FiberFix develop a loud-talking “manly man” brand character to connect with that audience.
“That might be my all-time favorite day at the office,” Crane says. “We captured something that’s surprising, but yet it fit the product. It shows what the product is capable of, what it does.”
5. Use the portfolio approach.
Crane likes to build a portfolio of videos around the hero. First there’s the primary video, which tends to run from two to five minutes (one even lasted 11 minutes).
Then surround the hero with sidekicks—usually three of them for starters. Each gets a 60-second video that supports the hero’s story, expanding on that universe. Then cut five-, 15- or 30-second versions for YouTube, Facebook or other platforms, driving viewers to your site. Eventually, the portfolio will number 30-40 videos, enabling a multichannel campaign
The portfolio approach allows you to use short-form content to “drive eyeballs to a landing page where the long format lives, and it gives our clients an opportunity to see whole story, the whole hero’s journey,” Crane says.
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