The true definition of viral

I have one question: Does it seem like the less talented you are, the more celebrated you are on the web? I see a lot of people putting in countless hours on their craft, trying to actually do something useful with their life. But yet, we have an overweight, six-year old kid on Youtube and Vine famous for saying “oooh kill em.” Don’t get me wrong, I find Terio to be hilarious and entertaining. I totally get it. His trademark “oooh kill em” phrase has now become a phenomenon that has swept the nation among kids and younger adults because of its comical satire. It has brought the kid internet fame, a hit song, a clothing line, and believe it or not, you can now book him to perform at your local concert.(Yes, this is true). But it seems as if our overexploitation of this kid has gone a little overboard, and we condone it. Don’t get mad at him for being conceited, we condone it; Don’t get mad at him for not attending school, we condone it; Don’t get mad at him for being overweight, we probably condone that too. It seems to me that a person who actually has talent is now considered an afterthought; We celebrate the untalented. It is a dilemma that I’ve yet to figure out.

I didn’t write this post to talk about Terio though; he already has enough attention. I wanted to use him as an example so that I could transition into going a little deeper into talking about something else that relates to this topic: The word viral. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was challenged into thinking about the overutilization of this term. It’s quite prevalent now with media outlets such as YouTube and Vine. But thinking in the mind of a strategic communications major, I knew that this term had more substance to it.

A couple of weeks ago, I would of thought the meaning of a video that went viral would be one such as Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, overweight six-year old Terio saying “ooh kill em” (last time I mention him) or a female by the name of Sharkeisha( which her name is another issue in itself) slapping another female unconscious. All videos garnered a lot of attention; I would have used these examples to attach to the cliché word known as viral. Just so that I could get a better understanding of the word, I even looked up the definition of it, and this is what I found, according to becoming very popular by circulating quickly from person to person, especially through the internet. As of today, I am convinced that is missing out on a intricate part of the term.

Simon Salt, author, speaker and photographer, came to speak to my strategic social media class a couple weeks ago. He challenged us to some critical thinking on the topic. Keep in mind, he was speaking to us hypothetically as brand managers – since the majority of us in the class were strategic communications or advertising majors. He wanted us to think in terms of the word viral being beneficial to us and our potential careers in the field; not a frivolous twerking video that generated one-million views.

Salt showed us two videos on YouTube that have been coined the term viral.

The first video he showed was an ad that was recently released by Volvo, which features action star Jean Claude Van Damme. The ad attracted more than 50 millions views because of the amazing stunt being performed and the awesomeness of Jean Claude Van Damme. Take a second just to look at the ad.

Jean Claude Van Damme Volvo Ad

The other video Salt showed us was a parody rap video titled “UNT Rap Anthem.” In the recent weeks, the video has been the talk among the majority of the University of North Texas’ students. The video was filmed on the UNT campus, and does a good job of showing what UNT has to offer to potential students in a comedic way – although I find the rapping to be questionable, but that’s not the point. This video has more than 50,000 views. Take a quick second to watch this video.

UNT Rap Anthem

Among the two videos, which one do you consider to be viral? That’s the question Salt asked the class, and predictably, we picked the Jean Claude Van Damme ad. Were we correct though?

The Jean Claude Van Damme Volvo ad had more than 50 million views, but it wouldn’t be considered the more viral of the two. How many viewers out of those million do we expect to get a Volvo vehicle after that ad? Yes, people will watch the ad and be mesmerized by the acrobatic stunt Van Damme put forth. But how effective do we really think it is? I honestly doubt that there is a guy sitting at home who just got done watching the Van Damme ad and says to his wife, “Honey, we are going to get a Volvo because Jean Claude Van Damme is amazing.” If it is, then that person is an outlier. Yes, it was two thumbs up on the awesomeness scale, but how effective do we really feel that ad will be to its targeted customers? You have to keep in mind that brands such as Volvo have niche customers (meaning only a certain demographic of people are likely to purchase the vehicle anyway). Think of it like this: Have you ever been on Facebook and clicked the “Like” button on a page and never looked at it again? Was that page effective towards you? No, because you looked at it once, was enticed by what was on the page, but you never gave it any thought again once you left the page. We can all attest to this.

On the other hand, we have the “UNT Rap Anthem” video, which was considered the more viral of the two by Salt. I know it’s hard to believe because the video had a significantly lower amount of views than the Jean Claude Van Damme ad. But it is considered to be the more viral of the two. Here’s why: The UNT rap video is more relevant to the demographic it is trying to reach. Like I said earlier, the video has become very popular among a very young demographic in a certain area. It has definitely become popular in Denton, which is a growing college town with a very young demographic representing a large percentage of the town’s population. High school students in the North Texas area have definitely become aware of the video, and it has become the talk of the 35,000 student population of UNT, which has now spread to other campuses as well. You don’t think high school graduates who are considering colleges to attend are now giving UNT a second thought? I’m not saying that it will result in more students applying and being admitted to UNT, but does it attract more eyeballs to the university? I would think so. When we coin the term viral to something, we want it to be effective. How high on the effectiveness scale is a guy doing the splits on two Volvo diesels?

Let’s interpret this from a sports perspective: Mix Martial Arts(MMA) is a growing sport in this country. But I believe it has become high in popularity because of one person: Dana White – entrepreneur and the President of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). I believe that White realizes his sport doesn’t appeal to a certain demographic. Some consider the sport to be too gruesome, filled with gore and not appropriate for network television. The vulgarity of the sport can be a little much for some people. But White is smart enough to know that he shouldn’t try to waste advertising dollars and strategies on his league to appeal towards a mass demographic; he only has a niche audience, but his advertising conveniently appeals to that niche audience. This translates into just that demographic having a strong attachment to the brand. It has been effective for White because his league, UFC, continues to grow in popularity. “UNT Rap Anthem” has the same effect on its audience.

So viral doesn’t only mean the amount of viewers you have, but better yet, it can mean how effective was your video among the viewers who actually watched it. I’m not saying that’s definition of viral is wrong, but if we’re going just by its definition, then there are thousands upon thousands of videos that have went viral. Let’s put some meaning to the word and not let overweight, untalented six-year old kids take over the world. Take the redundancy out of this word, and let it actually mean something when we use it.


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