Viral Videos Demystified: The Powerful Pull of Narrative [VIDEO]

Videos go viral because of luck, right? Wrong.

“We all want to be stars — celebrities, singers, comedians — and when I was younger, that seemed so very, very hard to do,” YouTube trends manager Kevin Allocca said at a recent TEDYouth event. “But now, web video has made it so that any of us or any of the creative things that we do can become completely famous in a part of our world’s culture.”

Videos go viral because they captivate people on a human level. Unspoken or spoken, they tell compelling stories. A man who falls off his bike. A politician’s professional agenda. A time-saving household product. A super-talented Canadian kid who sings like a pop star (a.k.a. this guy).

At the heart of every viral video is a solid narrative that is emotionally engaging, informative, and packed with entertainment value.

These three cases exemplify why:

Dollar Shave Club: “Our blades are f— great”

Santa Monica startup Dollar Shave Club has taken the topic of toiletries from mundane to buzz-worthy.

“Even guys who don’t shave might want to take up the habit when the club’s founder Michael Dubin takes them on a now-viral tour of his warehouse,” Ron Dicker said in the Huffington Post.” He disses his competition, points out that his polio-afflicted grandpa didn’t need pricey multiple blades, and declares that he’s creating jobs. Oh yeah, Dubin also describes his service — starting at a buck a month for home-delivery of ‘bleeping-great’ twin blades (plus $2 shipping).”

The brand-impact of this marketing message was powerful. Within two days of launching, the startup recruited 12,000 sign-ups.

Entwined with Dollar Shave Club’s sales pitch and marketing agenda is an entertaining story.

“Buying your razors doesn’t have to be a boring, humorless experience,” the company’s CEO Michael Dubin said in an interview with Business Insider. “In my opinion, nothing should be a boring, humorless experience. If I can make five minutes out of everybody’s month an enjoyable five minutes with a great shave on the other end of that, then I’m really happy, and I’ve done my job.”

BuddyMedia: Business beyond numbers

In the business world, corporate acquisitions are centered around numbers, and to most people, stories about investments and mergers can seem boring and convoluted.

Behind every business success story, however, is a human success story with highly emotional ups and downs. Through a viral video, BuddyMedia’s CEO Michael Lazerow shares a personal experience that underscores the company’s $689 million acquisition by SalesForce.

“All my life, I’ve had a heart condition…the first time I cheated death was when I was 18 months,” Lazerow shared in his video. Lazerow explains his heart condition as the defining characteristic of his entrepreneurial drive. He cheated death again at age 19, and the experience empowered him with profound fearlessness.

In his video, he explains all of this without once uttering a word. For the full three minutes, he keeps smiling and even sheds a tear, as his words play as messages on a tablet he holds. He humanizes what $689 million would otherwise fail to quantify.

“His main message though, is not so much about the acquisition or his heart, but about fear and whether it’s pulling you back,” Mashable writer Lance Ulanoff said. “It’s clearly not hindering Lazerow.”

‘Alive Inside’: Show, don’t tell

“A YouTube video now making waves features an elderly man in a nursing home who doesn’t remember his daughter when she greets him,” Matt Pearce writes in a Los Angeles Times article. “His name is Henry, and he’s slumped over his chair. He barely answers questions.”

Then, somebody plays music for him, and he lights up. His eyes widen, and he dances in his seat. When the song ends, he’s able to answer questions articulately. Music gives him what medicine can’t, and that’s precisely the point of the video.

The video humanizes the story and music therapy — a story that is central to the Music & Memory project’s organizational mission. It’s an emotional experience that data simply cannot convey.


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