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Use Consumer Science to Make Your Video Go Viral

By April 14, 2015No Comments
Go Viral

Viral Marketing is essentially word-of-mouth advertisng on steroids

Traditional advertising isn’t as powerful as it used to be. People just don’t trust it anymore. Consumers rely on their friends and family to tell them what they should buy, so how do you get people to tell their friends and family about your product? One way is to get your brand to go viral. When your brand goes viral, in just a few days, hundreds of millions of people can know about your company and product. A great way to do this is through a YouTube video. A YouTube video going viral is basically word-of-mouth advertising on steroids and is considered the Holy Grail of marketing. So how do you make something go viral? Is there a way to predict what will go viral and what won’t?

According to Dr. Brent Coker, a consumer psychologist who focuses in viral marketing, and has studied hundreds of viral videos, there is.

The key to understanding why a video goes viral is to understand what motivates people to share information with others. Dr. Coker believes there are four elements that motivate people to share something online: to say something about their personality, emotive strength, to be liked and make others feel good, and paired meme synergy.

To say something about their personality

Consumers need to value what the brand or idea communicates because when they share something on social media, they are in a sense sharing something that represents their personality. For example, Harley Davidson is associated with Freedom, Muscle, Tattoos and Membership. If a consumer places a high value on Freedom, Muscle, Tattoos and Membership they will be more likely to share a video that communicates those values with others.

Emotive strength

People tend to only remember what’s important, and important things that we remember tend to be associated with strong emotions, like fear, love, disgust and happiness. If you want people to share your video it needs to strike a strong emotional chord with them. The stronger the emotion they feel, the better. People want others to feel the same way they did and will share the video with them.

To be liked, look good and make others feel good

It’s important that your video resonates with a large group of people that have similar shared activities, like office workers or college students. College students want to be liked by other college students and will share a video or meme on Facebook or Twitter that will make them look good and that their friends who are also college students will like and appreciate.


After analyzing many viral videos, Dr. Coker came up with a list of memes that viral videos share in common. These videos usually need two or three memes working together in order to go viral. Some combinations work better than others. For example, Impromptu works particularly well with Eyes Surprise but not with Bubblegum Nostalgia. The memes listed below aren’t in any order.

Memes Commonly Found in Viral YouTube Videos
Cute Stimulation Trigger– the viewer imagines themselves being friends with the people in the video and sharing the same ideals Bubblegum Nostalgia
Impromptu Astounding Skill Voyeur– A Voyeur style video uses a shaky iPhone effect which makes it look as though the video was taken by an amateur
Disruption Destruction Vigilante Justice Rose Colored Glasses
Performance Eyes Surprise-unexpectedness “they actually did that” Comedy
Anticipation Babies Extreme Entertainment


Nice theory, now prove it

Let’s see some examples of Dr. Coker’s theories in action. Watch the videos and read the analysis below.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjB_oVeq8Lo&w=560&h=315]

Here’s our first example of a branded viral video. GoPro encourages people using their camera to send in the videos that they take with their GoPro’s and if they are really good they’ll share them on their YouTube Channel. This particular video of a fireman with a GoPro saving a kitten from a burned down house was able to get over 25 million views. This video uses strong emotions; even the manliest men will struggle to not tear up. It also perfectly drives home GoPro’s slogan, which is “Be a Hero;” the fireman is in every sense of the word a hero. It also cheats by using cats. Cute cat videos have almost become the established currency of the internet. This video uses a combination of memes: Cute, Eyes Surprise, Anticipation and Voyeur. It also cost aproximately zero dollars to make the video since it was user generated.  

Will it blend

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAl28d6tbko&w=560&h=315]

Blendtec has been making viral videos on YouTube for nine years. They make powerful blenders and show off the strength of the motor by asking the question “Will it blend?” So far they’ve blended iPads, glowsticks, marbles, iPhones and even cubic zirconia (imitation diamonds) with their blender. Their most popular video was when they used the blender to pulverize an iPad and it has 17 million views. They have 760,000 subscribers and 251 million total channel views. Seeing that there are only 316 million people that live in America, I’d say their YouTube strategy is working.  Blendtech’s videos combine the memes Disruption Destruction and Eyes Surprise.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7FIvfx5J10&w=560&h=315]

In my opinion this is the best viral marekting video of the bunch. Volvo set out to prove just how stable and precise the dynamic steering of their semi-trucks was. To do this they invited a man famous for doing the splits, Jean Claude Van Damme to perform the most epic of splits by doing the splits while straddling two moving Volvo semi-trucks. It’s safe to say it was a huge success, the video has 78 millon views and not only did it get a lot of views it perfectly demonstrates the advantages of using Volvo and its dynamic steering system. Volvo was able to pull off this marketing feat by using a combination of the memes Astounding Skill, Eyes Surprise and Anticipation. The video also allows its target market to say something about their personality when they share it, it has strong emotive strength and it makes them look good amoung their friends when they share it.


Viral marketing is not out of reach. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it can be dirt cheap. All it takes is a little bit of imagination and courage. So, if it really isn’t out of reach, why aren’t more brands creating viral videos? According to the Harmon Brothers (who have created over 100 marketing videos that have gained 1 million views or more for various companies) it’s because most big brands and companies don’t have a clue what they are doing.  They often create boring, unimaginative videos that blather on about the benefits of buying their product, because that is what they’ve always done. Let’s face it, this approach doesn’t even work with commercials and its the reason most of us change the channel when our show gets to a comerical break. The fact is that there are 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. If you want to compete with the likes of “Charlie Bit my Finger,” or “Grumpy Cat,” you need to be willing to take risks, put some time and effort into the video and most importantly be open-minded. I guarantee you that when some creative and talented marketing person at Volvo first thought up the idea of having Jean Claude Van Damme do the splits between two moving trucks that there were more than a few nay sayers in the room.

Funny Viral Cartoon

By Sean Nicholson, Courtesy of Creative Commons

If you need help brainstorming your next viral video, you could call the Harmon brothers (they “only” charge $500,000 a video) or you could get in touch with the folks at Laura Burgess Marketing. We’ve got open minds, fresh ideas and hours upon hours behind the camera and in the editing room. winston@lauraburgess.com