Videos that go viral: A Modest Case Study

Written on October 26, 2010


Viral videos are hotter than a Walmart parking lot on an Irondale summer day. But what does that mean for the business world?

One of the first viral vids that came to my attention was the knock-off of the Budweiser “True” spot featuring the Bud buds repeating “whassssuuup!” Somebody with more time on their hands than I put together a parody featuring Superfriends (Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, et al) and using the commercial’s voice track:














We laughed ’til we spotted. And we shared it with everybody we knew. Funny stuff. But that was all it was – funny stuff.

[Related post about some of the first viral videos: Social Media Therapy]

Predictably, the corporate world soon got a whiff of the rich reek of target audiences and tried its hand – despite the fact that the very nature of a viral video from the get-go was about spontaneity and  an absolute lack of pre-calculation. Some efforts worked. At lea

st they “worked” in the sense that a lot of people watched them. Whether they were part of an overall marketing strategy and “worked” in that context is not known to me. One of the earlier entries, Honda’s “Cog”, which featured a sort of Rube Goldberg machine made of car parts was jaw-dropping. Other efforts weren’t as good.


Check out this interminably long Microsoft example:














OBSERVATION: Microsoft should give up trying to be cool. They will never “out-cool” Apple and attempts like this just come off as unfortunate and ill-advised.

Now, viral videos are part of our cultural warp and weave. Ubiquitous as chipmunks, as of this writing there are in the neighborhood of 150,000,000 of them on YouTube – just short of one vid for every two people in the US.

Corporate use of them has become more sophisticated. Consider the  Old Spice campaign. What began as a clever television spot found completely unexpected legs in the viral video arena.

[See: Old Spice Causes Viral Infection 7.15.10]






UAB Medicine, a Cayenne client, sought to produce a video with a narrow target – nurses. Though they didn’t come right out and say they wanted a “viral video” (viral means something very different to them) that was clearly what they wanted. Now this provided a separate set of challenges. Think about it – if you’re target is broad, attracting a slice and enticing clicks out of them is easier (e.g. Old Spice). But, what if you’re target is  small, insular, and self-identifies strongly (e.g. nurses)? Could you gain any sort of traction out there i

n the Great Big Dialogue with those sorts of constraints?

With UAB, we set out to produce something of which we could all be proud – something people would want to share. In order to give our effort its best chance of success, we started with a few basic rules. 1. The work had to be good – high production values (even though the budget was modest) This has more to do with making sure that it was appropriate to the UAB brand than to help it become “sharable.” 2. It needed to feel as if it “belonged” to our target (nurses). In other words, it needed to be true.  3. The piece needed to tap into something we’d experienced during our many years of working with UAB – Nurses are wise. They have stories to tell and advice to share. And they love to mentor their young with those stories.

In order to produce the piece, we gathered multiple meetings of nurses and gleaned content directly from them. We also shared content we had already written to see if it passed muster. The result was What I’ve LeaRNed:





















The video was launched internally within the UAB community on February 23, 2010. As of this writing there have been more than 35,000 views. We placed the video on UAB’s YouTube nursing channel. It also was embedded in  the landing page of and UAB Hospital’s nursing Facebook page. Additionally, we created  promotional materials in anticipation of the National Students Nurses Association conference. A full page ad that suggested the design of a movie poster appeared in the conference program along with a printed, blown in, What I’ve LeaRNed “movie ticket” inviting attendees to the UAB booth at the conference. Attendees at the conference also were given a commemorative poster. Additionally, we sent out an e-blast to attendees and potential attendees  of the conference. On the UAB nursing website we offered downloadable wallpaper. Organizers of the conference, made curious by the print advertisement, previewed the video and were so impressed they asked if the video might be shown at the NSNA conference opening ceremony. As you can see from the timeline graph, NSNA created a huge boost in viewership. Attendees so identified with the video they asked if they could purchase it. Collateral matter was equally sought. What I’ve LeaRNed has been viewed 64% of the time by women. The majority

of viewers are between the ages of 25 and 54 – right in the wheelhouse of our target. As a result of its success, the video has become a keen recruiting tool for UAB’s nurse force.

This downloadable graph clearly shows the bumps the video got from e-mailing it to the nursing cadre, posting it to YouTube and the tremendous boost received from the NSNA conference.

Some things we learned in making What I’ve LeaRNed:

1. If you’re going to create a video that you hope is shared, a.k.a. viral,  by a very specific… even… well… surgical target, make sure the work is absolutely relevant to that group.

2. If you do #1, it is actually possible to create a video targeted to an ultra-narrow demographic.

3. If you really want to get it out there, use opportunities to share your work when you have a large concentration of your target.

4. Set out to make something good and relevant – not something viral. You might say, in Budweiser’s parlance… you absolutely have to make it TRUE.

By the way… shout out to Ted Speaker who helped create our tribute to the wisdom of nurses…


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