I Hate Viral(s)

I’ve grown to hate the term viral:

  • I hate the fact that it’s overused.
  • I hate the fact that it’s misused.
  • I hate the fact that ‘viral’ appears as a line on media plans.
  • I hate the fact that people now call them virals. With an (s) as if it’s a genre of film like westerns.
  • I hate the fact that clients can be fobbed off with “if we add a ‘send to a friend’ link to it, that’ll make it viral”. Not all of them. But watch out for it, you can spot it.

star wars kidA wise man (Rei Imamoto from AKQA in San Francisco if you must know) said in a meeting: “Viral is a consequence”. A truer 4 words have I rarely heard spoken.

Of course you can do things that might encourage people to talk about something. Or even send it on to someone else. Or blog about it. Or anything else that ‘spreads it’. But that’s just about making something that’s relevant. Something that I want to share because I love it. Something that ticks the right psychological boxes. It’s not about sex, or shock, or violence, or any other crass ‘too hot for tv’ tactic.

Make something entertaining (sure, it could be stupid, sexy, whatever…), something thought-provoking, something that makes someone’s day in a small way. Just make something good. Your audience are the ones who decide if it’s ‘viral or not’. They’re not dumb carriers of your disease. They’re willing participants in the distribution of your content.

Right, what got me started on this little rant? Oh, that’s it. I saw this: TIME.com: Viral Videos that Swept the Nation. And you know what. They’re right, these are viral videos. Videos that ordinary people have decided are great. I would talk about some of them. Others leave me cold.

But the interesting thing is that only 1 out of 8 of them has any (real) connection to a brand. (I’m not including Star Wars Kid as I don’t think Lucas would have signed that one off).

I’ve changed my mind. In the spirit of positivity I like viral. I like the notion of people sharing great things with each other. As long as we never forget that the audience are the ones who decide what is, or is not, viral. 

12 thoughts on “I Hate Viral(s)”

  1. Consumers probably use viral in the same way that film buffs talk about shorts.

    The love that marketers have for ‘viral’ is down to that very human weakness that grifters and huxters have exploited for years: the ability to get something for nothing.

    And in the goldfish memory that is the collective consciousness of marketers, viral is two syllables and easy to repeat as part of their buzzword mantra and what they probably mean is a kick ass idea that will help their product or service be memorable – which is what marketing communications of whatever flavour should do anyway.

    However I think that if a marketer is going to the trouble of developing decent content, it is a good idea to provide consumers with the opportunity to socialise it to friends, peers or their wider community. Not just emailing it on but also linking it to Digg, del.icio.us or Yahoo! MyWeb.

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  3. yep, I hear ya!

    i’ve heard from people who should know *much* better that viral means ‘taking video that the TV people have done and whacking it on the internet’.

    also very familiar with the attitude that ‘if you put a ‘send to friend’ on it, that make’s it viral’.

    i much prefer it when I say the word in a sentence (although I also try to avoid it these days) and someone comes back with ‘what?! viral? that’s a gross way to describe getting people to share stuff they think is cool with their friends’.

    it is pretty gross really :)

  4. I don’t think anyone uses the term in the correct way.

    A true “viral” is an idea that has a life of its own and spreads in the same way a virus does, prolifically and exponentially.

    Video, website, product, special offer, way of life – whatever.

  5. Hey Ged

    I agree that:

    a kick ass idea that will help their product or service be memorable

    Is what marketers should be looking for. But I think it’s this notion that ‘viral’ is something different is what irks me. It’s not a format. It’s not restricted to a 30 second movie clip. As you say, the things that are viral are ideas.

  6. Uh oh, Iain. In a blur of impending irony, your blog is destined to become the new inter-agency “viral”. Chuckle.

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  8. You hate “viral” the way I use to hate “e-business”.

    There is just business, right? When the fax machine was introduced, did we all go and spend money on “f-business” seminars and conferences?

    Nice rant, thanks casting it out there!

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