One of the things that makes online videos go viral is humour. It’s better than sex for selling things, especially as people are likely to share a funny video with their grandmas and possibly even their bosses. Humour is, unfortunately, not one of those things that is easy to pin down and guarantee. It can’t be tied down to a formula the way a gripping plot can (e.g. by using the Hero’s Journey format). Most of us have probably experienced times when we’ve tried to be funny only to have our jokes fall flat (especially if we have teenage children, who will throw off some line about “lame Dad jokes”).
Psychologists have said that humour is caused by a mismatch or incongruity. Using things the right way with the right attitude and succeeding isn’t funny. However, putting something to a peculiar use (most puns and plays on words fall into this category), mismatching the attitude or emotions and the action, or failing tend to make something funny. Pointing out how something or someone fails to live up to the ideal of perfection is funny, especially if that someone is yourself or a group of people you belong to (if you don’t belong to the group, it can be seen as prejudiced, so tread with caution). Although it’s not as simple as this. Some things that get people chuckling don’t seem to fall into any of these categories*.
OK, that’s all rather dry, especially given what we’re talking about. Let’s look at some practical applications. One of the reasons why cat videos – the quintessential online video – are so popular is because cats normally look so elegant, graceful, nimble and mysterious. When cats don’t look like this, such as when they fall into a full bathtub while trying to catch moths, they’re funny.
Cat videos also succeed when teeny little fluffy kittens that look so cute, helpless and innocent try to attack large dogs – it’s the mismatch that makes us laugh.
Another feature that tends to create the sort of humour that ends up going viral is when something extremely trivial and almost meaningless is treated as though it’s very serious, important and relevant. This is why “What Does The Fox Say?” managed to go viral a few years ago.
It’s also why the absolutely meaningless “PPAP: Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen” clip by Piko-Taro managed to pick up eight million views in less than a month – and that doesn’t even count all the pirate versions on You Tube, which have also picked up more than their fair share of views and likes. If you want a definition of “going viral”, this ticks the boxes. Time Magazine has picked this song as being the next Gangnam Style (not sure if I’d quite want to go that far with a prediction – it’s going to be hard to rival something that has over two billion views and made it to #1 on the charts in all continents of the globe simultaneously).
So what does this mean for those of us who want to make our own videos with the hope of them going viral? Of course, there’s no guarantee that something will go viral. It’s just one of those things that just happen.
The first and biggest lesson is that you need to lose your fear of looking like a fool. It’s a paradox: if you’re worried about looking stupid on camera and making a first-class twit of yourself, you’ll end up looking awkward, shy and uncomfortable – and it won’t even be funny. However, if you let it all go gloriously and unashamedly, letting yourself be silly and over the top, you’ll get people laughing along with you, feeling good about you and liking you… and sharing your videos. This applies even if you’re a politician or if you represent an organisation that’s got a serious purpose. Actually, make that especially if you’re a politician, etc. Your position is supposed to be very serious, dignified and responsible, so if people seeing you abandoning this image and doing something that doesn’t go with that image, then you’ll get people laughing and thinking “That guy/gal has a great sense of humour – I like him/her.”
Naturally, if you are a serious organisation, you won’t want to make all of your videos funny and you don’t want to act like an idiot in all of them. You will want the other sort of video as well – the ones where you tell gripping real stories and arouse other emotions. However, as any teacher knows, a serious message or an important lesson can slide into the brain easily and stick if it’s served up with humour as a sauce. For example, learning English is a serious business for non-native speakers, but you can get important phrases to stick by combining them with cheesy aerobics moves performed by guys in suits and/or girls in crop tops…
The other ingredient, mentioned by the BBC in its analysis of that PPAP clip http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37480920 (people analyse these things, OK?) is the use of catchy tunes and a repetitive beat, preferably with loony dance moves (remember what we said about not being afraid to look silly?). From an advertiser’s perspective, a catchy song is pure marketing gold. Be the clever early bird who catches the earworm and you’ll find a way to get your message stuck in a viewer’s head. For hours. No – make that “for years”. How many of you remember this advertising jingle?
If you’re not a musical genius, don’t worry. Simple songs stick in your head much better than complicated things. Mess around with a keyboard (of the musical type) or a music creation software package like Logic or Garage Band and you might be able to come up with something of your own.
At DCS, we’re not all that musical, but we can help you put together a great video, whether it’s funny or serious. All your humour will fall flat if your video is poorly filmed or if the video sound quality blurs what you’re saying. The same goes for your serious messages.
* Fart jokes, the stand-by of plenty of comedy, falls into the “failing to live up to the ideal of perfection” category. As the creator of Narnia, C.S. Lewis pointed out, humans have this odd tendency to find a normally functioning body funny because it doesn’t live up to some sort of Platonic ideal. Although Lewis never used fart jokes in the Chronicles of Narnia.