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March 23, 2013

Viral Videos – Hit or Miss?

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Viral videos are pretty hit or miss, and not many brands can match the virality of independent series like Awkward Black Girl. Still, the brands who try can end up winning big: Old Spice and Progressive are just two brands who’ve used humor, silliness and social media to achieve virtually instant name recognition. Videos that are useful or entertaining are the most shared, but there’s no real formula to making a viral video. That doesn’t mean, however, that brands won’t try–and some of them succeed.

For the first few seconds of Till Dance Do We Part it’s not hard to think this is a real show. It’s flashy and gaudy and just weird enough to be plausible: big audience, technically skilled dancers, and a judge who looks like a cross between Liberace, David Alan Grier and Prince. So, when the camera cuts to a female dancer smacking sidelong into a washing machine, the viewer’s surprised. We’ve just been tricked into watching a nearly pitch-perfect pastiche of reality show–and when the punch line comes, the viewer feels a little cheated. That’s what makes it compelling: for a split second, the viewer is left squinting at their laptop screen, not in on the joke.

But that doesn’t last long, and the punch line becomes genuinely funny. It shouldn’t be, because laughing at people who hurt themselves isn’t nice; but the slapstick element is a reminder of just how absurd the reality television industry has become. With the appearance of appliances comes the relief that a dance competition this crazy isn’t actually real. It’s what makes this video both entertaining and shareable. This month-old Sears commercial is proof that virality sometimes doesn’t happen. But Sears’ brand is recognizable enough that it doesn’t need an instantly measurable ROI, and this commercial will eventually become a gamble that pays off.

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