The Custard Blog

Words of wisdom from our team of online marketing experts

How can businesses use viral content?

It’s hard to log into your Facebook or Twitter account without finding the latest viral video or image of the week. There are a million and one viral videos and pictures out there, with everything from funny cats to crazy stunts available to watch at the click of a button. If you want to be entertained by these viral clips and images, all you need to do is visit websites like BuzzFeed and viralvideos.co.ukto easily lose a few hours of your day.

What is viral content?

For those that are unsure of what I mean by ‘viral’ videos though, I’m simply referring to videos that gain huge popularity on the internet in an incredibly short space of time. You could say that they spread like a flu virus, hence their quirky name.

We spoke some about viral videos back in 2010 in our post on the Most Viewed Viral Brands of 2010 but a lot has changed in the two years since then. Many companies have tried to harness the power of viral videos in the past, but unfortunately it isn’t always as effective as they’d hope.

Be natural

The thing is, when it comes to creating viral content, it seems to work best when it has good intentions. By this, I mean that content which is completely unique and which hasn’t been created with a view to going global is usually better received. Take the cute viral videos such as those from Maru the cat and Boo the Dog, for example. Their owners probably didn’t set out to have the entire world aww’ing over videos of their pets, but it happened nonetheless.

And just how did that happen?

Well, the key aspect of viral content, whether it be videos, pictures, written content or online games, is that there’s always a social aspect to it. One of the best examples of this at the moment is the incredibly catchy song ‘Gangnam Style’ from PSY.

PSY is a South-Korean singer that’s seen huge success in his home country, but little mainstream airplay anywhere else. Until, that is, his song Gangnam Style was released.

As of August 2012 it was the most-watched video on YouTube, overtaking Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, and it’s also the most-viewed K-pop (Korean pop) music video. It’s thought that rapper T-pain was one of the very first to kick-start the global spread of the song when he linked to the video via Twitter. From there, the music video uploaded by OfficialPSY has been watched 878,538,594 times.

Viral content and social media

However, Gangnam Style will diminish in popularity before long and, once that happens, the next big thing in viral content will quickly take its place. Companies that are looking to increase their brand image through the use of viral marketing may not be able to manufacture a viral video very easily, but what they can do is ensure their content makes the most of social media.

Why do people share content?

Nowadays, if someone reads, sees or hears something they like, they instantly want to share it with their friends. Social Media Today has an excellent article on the reasons why people feel this urge to share, and it says that we do this because we want:

–          to bring valuable and entertaining content to others
–          to define ourselves to others
–          to grow and nourish relationships
–          for self-fulfilment
–          to market causes or brands

So, if people have this need to share what they like, companies should cash in on this natural instinct. However, this does mean that, more now than ever, all sharable content needs to be of the highest quality. Marketers should invest in unique, original and interesting copy and video marketing that will really make their company stand out from the crowd, so that they can be the next big thing on the viral web.

Make it funny yet meaningful

Before I leave you with this nugget of advice though, I thought I’d provide you with an excellent example of intentionally created viral content in action.


The marketers for Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia, were looking for a way to make a public service announcement on the importance of safety around trains more entertaining, and from there the viral video and song ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ was born.

It appeared on YouTube on 14th November 2012 and the version uploaded by user DumbWays2Die has now received 30,555,923 views. And why did it work? Because the marketers thought outside the box with it and instead of simply creating a dusty old video of people being cautious around railroad crossings, they use colourful animation combined with black comedy and a catchy song to get people to watch and listen to their message.

Do you have any tips for marketers looking to create sharable content?


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