Judging Viral – Viral in 5 Words

I’ve been doing some bits and pieces of awards judging for various folk this year. It’s all been interesting so far.

The one I’m most worried about is the D&AD Viral Category. I’m the chairman of the jury and I’m guessing that there’s going to be loads of debate around ‘what is viral?’. There always is at this kind of thing. There’s also going to be loads of fighting about whether specific things are or aren’t viral. Is a TV ad that went viral ‘a viral’? Is something that got passed round because it was really beautiful a viral? Does a viral have to have a farting squirrel in it?

I used to be of the opinion that you couldn’t really judge something as being viral or not unless you actually know whether it did or didn’t become viral. In which case you’d need to know the results. And how they’d managed to achieve the results. For example if a video has been seen 3,123,826 times, but they’d achieved that purely through paid media I’d have said ‘not viral’. Conversely if a clip was great, but had only been seen by 5 people I’d also have said ‘not viral’.

Basically the old me would have said something is viral only if it has been seen by a disproportionately high percentage of its target audience purely as a result of peer distribution (email, blogs, forums, mobile pass on, IM, etc.).

But now I’ve chilled out a bit ;-)

Having looked at 100s of supposedly viral things (I say supposedly only because they’ve been submitted into viral categories in awards) I think one has to be a bit more relaxed about the definition of viral. I’m not sure I can exactly describe what I mean here. But I’m going to give it a go.

I guess I’ve started judging stuff based on:

Has this thing been conceived and created with a set of qualities that might make it ‘viral’ to its target audience. And is it actually any good.

Quite often when discussing work in a creative forum you’ll find that people don’t want to talk about things like target audiences or results. But when you’re talking about something peer distributed those two things absolutely have to be considered. Don’t they? There’s still far too much viral stuff that relies on bad knob-gags and nudity even though it’s totally inappropriate for the brand and the audience (and don’t get me wrong I love a good knob-gag, in the right setting).

Anyway as you can see the whole debate gets very wordy and waffly and ultimately tied up in its own entrails.

So as I was trundling off to sleep last night I set myself a challenge. Could I come up with 5 words to describe whether or not something is viral. The three I can remember are:

conceived with talkability in mind

designed to make right noise

peer-to-peer distribution optimised

I’m sure most of you can do better. Please do…

18 thoughts on “Judging Viral – Viral in 5 Words”

  1. Original. Memorable. Surprising. Unmissable. Engaging.

    (But I suppose that could be said about any good ad, not just viral, so the above isn’t much good to anyone!)

  2. I don’t claim to be an expert in viral, in fact the definition seems all a bit fuzzy to me, but I would tend to agree with Pete. If something is viral, it must create a desire for one to pass it on voluntarily. There must be a plethora of different reasons why somebody would want to pass on/share something with someone else, and for me, it’s about tapping into that desire.

    Here is a stab at 5 words…

    Insight- did the piece demonstrate insight into the mindsets of it’s audience? Did it understand and tap into the desires that exist within it’s audience to pass it on? Did they provide the right incentive?

    Message- was the message strong? Was it clear? It’s very well something going viral but did it carry the right message? (I guess this is kind of like the ‘right noise’ that Iain mentioned).

    Conversation- was it just passed on or was there conversation? Did it resonate with it’s target audience to its full potential?

    Creativity- self explanatory.

    Impact- was it viral?

  3. not really thought this through but…look up virus on wikipedia.. some things they say..

    Viruses are parasites that reproduce, and spread by many different vectors
    -email, youtube, word of mouth and ‘buzz’

    This process usually kills the infected cell.
    -think of the best virals – they get copied and copied, users adding thier own take, mutating the original concept until everyone is sick of it

    viruses have genes and evolve by natural selection.

  4. I have a very effective and simple formula for viral:

    It’s only a viral if it’s been in my inbox.

    Hope this helps with the judging.

  5. …..and to win a prize, it would surely need to make an appearance in your Outbox too?

  6. One sentence:

    A novel or fun idea with a high likelihood of being spread volontarily.

  7. Sorry for all the analogies, just couldn’t help myself and slight deviation from your request but…I think virals are like lightning, (as you say one offs) cracking ideas that strike once and are usually impossible to replicate so they don’t usually conform to any long term strategic form of planning. They’re a good idea with a contextual brand bolted on (sorry) or should I say, neatly meshed into the idea? That’s why we have ‘idea banks’ to store away our random ‘black swan’ ideas for those perfect (stormy) days when you synthase a beautiful idea with the ideal brand that then hopefully goes on to cause electrifying engagement and wildfire WOM!

    good blog piece on virals from Jerome – http://digicynic.wordpress.com/2008/02/20/no-one-knows-anything/

  8. It will of course be a discussion. I was judging this year and we did discuss it, Michael Lebowitz was el pres and had some opinions on this topic ;-)

    take care Iain and keep on blogging …its a nice read

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