‘You can’t make a cult movie.’
I found this quote recently whilst reading a film critics blog, and the idea stuck with me. The post went on to explain that some film makers recently, especially in the comedy sphere, have tried to make films that are deliberately ‘so bad it’s good’ goofy, or peppered with pop culture references, in an attempt to make a cult classic (think The Rocky Horror Show.) The problem is, this films often end up feeling flat or forced.
I feel that the same applies to online viral videos, especially in the world of advertising. Any advertiser would love to have their work go viral, but it’s not a predictable or guarantee-able event. You can study ‘Charlie bit my finger‘ or ‘Friday‘ or ‘Numa Numa guy‘, or look at the demographics, the commenters, the imitations (or even make an response of your own – EE has a great ‘sequel to Numa Numa’ that I saw in the cinema last week and it’s pretty awesome, although I feel the older members of the audience didn’t get the joke) but you can’t really purposefully make a video with these features and expect it to ‘go viral’ and possibly more if you are advertising something. Online video gives opportunities for great, original and unusual advertising campaigns but in the end they work like any other traditional campaign, through message and exposure.
If anything, an attempt to create a spreadable video might backfire badly for a company, much like the films described in that blogpost. That’s not to say that advertising campaigns and videos don’t go viral on YouTube or elsewhere, they frequently do. But it’s not something you can plan for or rely on.
Useful related reading: Spread That! Further Essays from the Spreadable Media Project by Henry Jenkins
In this, Henry Jenkins points out that media doesn’t magically spread and share all by itself – there’s an audience involved who need to be appealed to in some way.