The VIRALITY GENE — It’S GENIUS

Why something goes VIRAL & other doesn’t?

With no mention of the word “Chocolate” even once, the Cadbury GORILLA ad was totally contagious, & had the viral gene & this advert pulled a lot of attention & accolades. The background score of Phil Collins “In the air Tonight” begins and the camera shows a close up of a seemingly real gorilla, & then slowly the camera pulls back to reveal a man in a monkey suit sitting behind a drum set & as the song progresses the gorilla starts drumming. The ad was so much followed that its spoofs were created with mock gorilla and remixed music.

The Gorilla on the drums surprised the viewers, raised eyebrows and triggered curiosity for people to keep watching the ad. The message of this unconventional ad was the its the pure joy of being in the moment that gives us happiness & pleasure & this message was conveyed in a unique way.

Why Blendtec blender “WILL it BLEND” ad got more than 500 Million Views

The founder of the Blendtec blender sequel after sequel in its ads take tech products like iphone, ipad , Amazon Echo, Sony Camcorder & many other tech gadgets to blend it in its blender. As the blender whirls, pieces of these gadgets are seen turning into powder. It’s silly, maybe it is, & the question is “Is doing something very low-key homespun alright as a product strategy”. Well it gave the video more than 500 million views & the product incredible sales. It perhaps had the VIRALITY GENIUS GENE in it, that engaged, surprised, the audience with content they had not imagined before. It added to the product story showing that Blendtec ‘s blenders are so powerful that they can blend anything.

The overarching questions are what makes a product, an advert, a concept, an idea tick & become viral & others don’t. Why some ads are gripping & others fail? Why some videos reach million views overnight & others don’t?

With my long experience of watching videos, creating & editing ads, I came to a conclusion that something has to have a GENIUS gene to go VIRAL & stick. When I say the GENIUS gene I am not trying to put a closure to the attributes or boxing anything into a framework. These traits or attributes might not be sufficient going forward, because the dynamism & fluidity of human behaviour cannot be seen in more glory than in current times. Netizens are on a roller coaster ride of breaking the stereotypical archetypes. GENIUS acronym plausibly is to make the attributes easy to remember & to make things simple.

Having put it into the GENIUS model, I believe that models & frameworks are just intermittent ways of simplifying things, that’s it. We are living in the age of social-disruption, where everything is being challenged. However I believe the fundamental principles of human behaviour remain the same. I am not saying these G. E. N. I. U. S. elements are sufficient, but they are absolute necessary for something to go viral.

Lets decode the GENIUS GENE of Virality…

1. GENUINE

Your backstory tells a lot about you. People admire the audacity to come out as authentic & vulnerable exactly the way you are. People connect to you when you are true to yourself and in the process you are also motivating others to be their authentic best. When they find your work is originally genuine tied closely with a strong sense of purpose they in a gesture to appreciate, share your content with others. Because the message or content makes people believe that its worth sharing.

Picture courtesy giphy.com

2. EMOTIONALLY Engaging

Image Courtesy Google Search

I personally don’t believe that any sort of emotional marketing trick will make your product, idea, creative go viral. Emotional here is not necessarily making somebody feel sad, or doing trickery or perhaps showcasing false made up pitiful content to gain sympathy, but emotionally engaging content makes people feel motivated, inspired, excited, happy. Emotion encompasses how one feels when they watch something, & consider something worth sharing & spreading. It invokes a sense of responsibility in people to share the content for a greater cause or a strong reason. Provoking strong & immediate emotional reactions is a key for something to catch fire. It further goes to act as a strong stimulant to the shareability factor of good content.

Love you girl for your courage: Jewelz Mazzei’s dancing ( from the video she posted on Yutube )

When a plus size model shares her body positive message through a personal video and breaks the conforming trend of size zero models, she does not only creates a viral video but a viral phenomenon which gets adopted globally. Its inspiring and women going through similar issues are profoundly stimulated, across the globe. People spread it because somewhere this woman connects with the hidden & repressed sentiments of thousands of those plus size women. The cliched pop-culture of slim, slender, fragile, liposuction-ed bodies epitomizing the ideal beauty gets disrupted. Jewelz Mazzei’s dancing video went viral, Plus size fashion shows becoming popular & video of brand such as lingerie brand Parfait capitalizing on these changing socio-cultural changes goes viral. Today plus-size models are so much a global trend.

The airlines worker does dance moves to make a crying child in the plane & the video goes viral. This is an act where the employee does not think if he would look stupid doing it, it was an act of genuine kindness that people connected with.

Elaine Hatfield an american social psychologist in her book “Emotional Contagion” states that when people are in a certain mood, whether elation or depression, that mood is often communicated to others. When a message is emotional and it gains momentum within a group, then emotional contagion happens and a particular idea, message goes viral.

3. Novelty or Newness

Tattoos, Selfies, Flash mobs, Boho lifestyle, Gangnam style dance, 3D movies in theatres, Memes, Plus size fashion models, Bitcoin, Influencers have one very potent attribute in common , man’s desire to create new things and his courage to showcase himself & herself for truly who he is.

History has enough examples that man has travelled, explored, hunted, invented, discovered, created, innovated out of this strong intrinsic human desire to create, be the source of origin of his own creation.

Personality psychologist Robert White in his seminal work “THE CONCEPT OF COMPETENCE” suggest that humans have this intrinsic need to feel effective or competent & humans create & are excited about new things because that gives them a sense of accomplishment. A child’s innocent curiosity to fearlessly learn & explore new things Robert suggests to a large extent might be attributed to their need to feel effective or competent.

4. Idiosyncratic

Imaginative| Inquisitive | Interesting

Humans are wired to seek answers. We don’t think in numbers. We think in stories and what they mean to us. Most importantly we are hard wired for novelty or newness in our experiences, that’s we go to explore new & different things. Our desires leads to imagining a better life.

5. Unimaginable, Unexpected

Its a regular day for you. You are going to office, reach the metro station and on your way you see A.R. Rahman, INDIA’s most coveted music composer , a OSCAR winning musician just performing on the side of the station. this to you is unbelievably surprising and unexpected. You immediately grab your smartphone from your pocket & start to shoot him, & you see two more, four,eight and then hundreds of people all on the station shooting him. Will this video go VIRAL, OF COURSE YES! Why?

6. SHAREABLE | SHOW STOPPER | STORY

The S element of the GENIUS has to be these 3 necessary dimensions.

The basic premise of something going viral is that people who are the ultimate decision makers of sharing any content has to find the content fascinating enough to share. The above 5 attributes of GENIUS surely makes a thing, concept or video, or a product goes VIRAL.

I asked 150 people why do they share what they share. There were more than 15–20 reasons, but for simplicity purpose & to avoid redundancy I picked all the variables & clubbed them into fewer similar factors using a statistical technique called factor analysis. The top 5 reasons that constituted for majority of the pie are mentioned in the below chart.

LIVE IN LEVIS AD, Be Unapologetic of who you are

Few days back the above LEVIS advert went viral. Why? Think about it & see if it has the gene of the GENIUS. Yes surely it has. Not to say the controversy bit of it, didn’t add fire to it going more viral. But it had already gone viral before the controversy. I would still say that Sooni Taraporevala (@soonifilms) was neither right not wrong of the accusations she made of stealing creativity related to the set that production designer @shazoid did for her movie.

It went viral because of the AUVA AUVA song playing at the backdrop & @deepikapadukone, the show stopper. She is liked by millions, she is attractive(very important reason people start following someone, want to see to something or someone) & when the ad starts with showcasing her well rounded & shaped bums, people get more glued to see whats next & then these girls are dancing in kind of trance of their uniqueness and idiosyncrasies. They follow their passion, of being a drummer, of being a member of a biking club & riding their bikes, breaking stereotypes & choosing professions closely tied to their passions, they are unapologetic of who they are & all this cumulatively raises the happiness quotient of people who are watching the video.

Optional reading [The set of the advertisement resembled the sets of her film YEH BALLET , which according to the director was made ingeniously by the production designer of her film. Agreed. BUT was the advertisement about the set, was the ad selling the set. The ad makers got inspired from how the set looked in the movie YEH BALLET and thought of having a similar setup for their advertisement. Was the concept of the movie copied. No it was not. the advertisement is telling a completely different story. Did the ad go viral because of how the set looked , Nobody would agree to this so, it went viral because of the happiness quotient the girls are able to raise in the viewers. I totally agree with Sooni Taraporevala @soonifilms that intellectual theft is disheartening & that’s why PATENTS for your creative work is even more important in today’s time]

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Jonah Berger in his book Contagious discusses 6 principles or factors of contagiousness for a product, idea or concept. These being social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, stories & together these 6 acronymed as STEPPS are 6 principles of virality. I follow him and part of his fandom.

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Chip Heath & Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick also emphasize on 6 traits that make some ideas tick & others don’t. Chip & Dan used the SUCCESS framework to detail down these 6 traits: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, & Emotional & Stories. They all have necessarily made solid points through all these traits responsible for certain things making a mark & gaining popularity.

Do share your views with me on nitika.sharma@yodatheresolute.com

Founder of YodatheResolute a socio-cultural marketing agency. Work at the intersection of disciplines sociology, psychology, behavioural science, marketing.