With all of the videos and blog posts claiming to reveal the secrets of viral video, it’s amazing that the number of viral videos doesn’t increase exponentially everyday. Tips run the gambit from plausible to absurd, but in general are opaque and a faith-based. If Harvard professor Thales Teixeira were a marketing blogger, he might be able to interject some pragmatism into the conversation.
Teixiera asserts that the number of online video advertisements that go viral is about .1%. By sheer volume we must assume that for general video content posted to sites like YouTube the percentage is infinitesimally smaller. For every advertisement that goes viral there are 999 that don’t, as there are millions of stagnant videos for each viral (non-advertising) video. The odds are so astronomical that it makes a blog post claiming to share the secret quite (ahem) ambitious.
Professor Teixiera has developed a mechanism for ad video virality based upon research of people’s responses to viral advertising ads. His insights may offer the best observations yet of what causes videos to be shared and consumed on a massive scale.
Two components of video virality
It seems obvious if you think about it, but Teixiera describes the virality process into two parts: consumption and sharing. What isn’t as obvious is that the decision to watch a video is independent from the decision to share it.
Teixiera describes that 90% of viral ad video is humorous (he calls this “entertainment” video, with the other 10% labelled as “information”). He further labels the humor used into two types: typical and shocking. He discovered that people will watch each type of humor equally, but they will not share shocking humor anywhere near as much as typically humor.
Shock kills, at least so far as virality is concerned.
If you ever doubted Sally Hogshead when she asserts that we have nine-second attention spans, never doubt her again.
Professor Teixiera asserts as much. In order to have viewers watch a video to completion, it has to immediately draw them in with a humor element, and then take it away. Why take it away? Because it turns out that we adapt to the joy caused by the humor and can actually get bored by persistent humor.
This is not unique to video content. Michael Laskow of Taxi Music lamented in one of his videos that he used to mix down twenty-some tracks for popular music, and now engineers mix hundreds of tracks to make just one song. The reason that they do this is to change the elements of the music several times during the song to keep listeners interested. Listen to any current popular music and you’ll hear it. Darn attention spans!
Teixiera also states that you have to reintroduce the humor (and take it away) throughout the video in order to keep viewer interest.
One other note, Teixiera comments that viewers are very turned off by conspicuous branding and it’s probably good to note that this tactic actually diminishes trust for online videos.
Why we share
The final insight that Teixiera offers may be important to content marketers beyond online video.
In circumstances where users watched a video to completion and shared it with a broad audience, their motivation was selfish (for the most part). Teixiera says that the desire to build social capital through sharing new or interesting content was a far more prevalent motivation to share than altruism.
What do you think? Are Professor Teixiera’s research observations consistent with what you’ve observed with viral videos?
For more information please check out the embedded videos of Professor Teixiera describing his observations in greater detail.
Sally Hogshead on the nine-second attention span