This is what viral is about, it cannot be orchestrated

Via Metafilter:

This explains exactly how something can go viral. Not the video itself, the event it’s recording. Chance is a big thing. If an ad agency says they do viral videos and campaigns then they’re talking bollox. You can no more guarantee a video will go viral as you can getting your site first on Google in a competitive search area. You can facilitate making it easier to happen alright.

Watch this video as a lone drunk/on something else dancer is joined by two more people as more and more people just watch them. Suddenly within a few seconds there are dozens dancing with them. The surge of the crowd is almost like a riot.

20 Responses to “This is what viral is about, it cannot be orchestrated”

  1. Martin says:

    “If an ad agency says they do viral videos and campaigns then they’re talking bollox”.

    Designing something to specifically spread virally is very possible. I won’t bother you with examples, as you are aware of loads of them.

  2. robert coyle says:

    I think I read in Malcolm Gladwells Outliers that it takes a crowd of 15 people before the group attracts a majoirity of people within range. He talks about an experiement set up at the corner of a street in NYC. Once they had 15 people pointing up over 87% of passers by stopped and looked up, beofre that figure the numbers stopping were much lower.

    I also remember a “Brainiac” experiment about trying to form a Mexican wave at a football match and they found a similar number. I can’t accurately count the number that joins right before it goes ballistic but it looks like it could be 15

    Sonote to any flash mobbers out there. make sure you have 15 people

  3. Emma Kytzia says:

    I really dig the third guy’s moves!

  4. robert coyle says:

    Slight correction to my previous comment the NYC example was from James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds” not Gladwells The Outliers.

  5. […] dancing is viral, via Damien Mulley axigen, bullshit generator, damien mulley, Half-geek Links, journalspace, […]

  6. lisadom says:

    Will this be a self unfulfilling prophecy if you help me spread a viral message? (see latest post)


    ps. I like that song as much as the video.

  7. UnaRocks says:

    I agree with Martin that it is possible to design a video with a viral effect in mind. Do you think Cadbury’s really thought that after making a video of a gorilla it would be viewed by just a few people? Of course not, that’s why they did it.

    This video isn’t an example of something being ‘viral’ in the current sense of the word, it’s an example of contagious participation and shared experience. If you attach the meaning of ‘viral’ to something basically catching on in a populated environment where the regular laws of social norms temporarily don’t exist (like a music festival), then football terrace songs and conga lines in a club and shouts of ‘one more tune’ at a gig are ‘viral’ by that definition. But they are not.

    Experiencing a viral campaign is generally a solitary experience subsequently shared with or passed on to someone else. It’s not collective or visibly simultaenous like this video, and also, it doesn’t evoke emotions attached to participation or interaction, it is passive viewership that is then shared.

  8. @una Cadbury’s pulled the video from Youtube because they had no rights to the music for it online. They never officially put that video up anywhere, it was a fan and they wiped it. If they had planned on mass online audiences they would have given Phil Collins an extra few quid.

  9. UnaRocks says:

    @ Damien – “They never officially put that video up anywhere” – wasn’t it aired on TV and in cinemas, and then caught on in places it wasn’t viewable?

  10. Alexia Golez says:


    Even the video veterans whose videos have gone viral admit there’s no fixed formula. To say that it is possible to design a video with a viral effect in mind suggests a God complex. One take a horse to the river, but they cannot make it drink.

    Viral in this case is verb. A doing thing. The example of a football song is not really viral. Giving that example is misleading. What’s the social imperative here? The bounds of people that want to share in this experience is limited.

    I also disagree with your observation that a experiencing a viral campaign doesn’t evoke emotions and is passive viewership that is shared. Why would someone share something that doesn’t mean something to them?

    At the end of the day, for whatever reasons, we share things that make us feel. In life and by extension, on the web, to quote Ze Frank – people want to feel and to be felt. If sharing those things that mean something to us is worth a pinch of salt, then it’s worth an emotional moment.

  11. Alexia Golez says:

    Oh and to clarify, many try to design viral videos. Those are the expensive vanity affairs. Saying it’s possible and that there is a formula is not true. Look at the percentage that fail. Luck is the secret sauce.

  12. Martin says:

    @Alexia: What about the t-mobile dance?

    Was that luck? They did a cool video, and then it spread virally.

    What about ILOVEBEES? Or the dark night ARG ?

    “Look at the percentage that fail” – what? Same issue with any other advertising attempt. Viral marketing is real, and it is possible to orchestrate. Obviously it’s harder to be successful than to fail. It’s harder to make good films than bad films etc.

  13. T-Mobile stole the idea from improv anywhere, they copied something that was already hugely popular. Can the Flu be orchestrated? No

  14. Alexia Golez says:


    Viral is not an adjective. It’s a verb. The kind of virality we’re talking about is about ideas, not about fucking marketing. Pervasive ideas spread, others die on the vine. It’s natural.

    If viral marketing can be orchestrated, show us your formula. Like Damien said, T-Mobile jumped on the concept. They took an idea and ran with it.

    The success of ILOVEBEES is over-stated, page-views did run in the hundreds of thousands, but only a couple of thousand gamers used it. A smaller group again on a dedicated repeat basis.

    My point is, that not that many people need to participate in something to make it appear to be viral. And the nature of virality is based on waves of sustainable infection (or spread) in the populace. Again, following the classical model of a virus. A good idea still needs an element of luck to go viral.

  15. […] This is what viral is about, it cannot be orchestrated Damien Mulley (tags: viral) […]

  16. Martin says:

    @Alexia: It’s all about fucking marketing. Obviously T-Mobile stole the idea, its a good one. And they did a fantastic implementation of it. And it spread in a viral fashion. There is no argueing with the fact that it spread virally.

    A good idea, well implemented, regardless of originality, can be tipped. If you believe it’s not possible, I have no idea what to say to you apart from, what I said before, it’s harder to be successful than not, but T-Mobile were successful.

    I think there’s a distinction to be drawn between a truly original meme spawning and then evolving as it spreads virally and orchestrated viral marketing. (oh hell, I love stupid acronyms, so lets call that OVM.)

    Are you saying that a piece of media pushed by a company that then spreads via forwarding on networks(email, fb, twit blah blah) is not a viral spread?

    If that does not constitute a viral spread, what does?

    I fail to understand the flu analogy Damien. It of course could be orchestrated. I could seed a highly infectious variant in a population, and then let the infection spread. I have no direct control over the spread, but I can set the conditions for it to spread, and also help it to spread by continued seeding at opportune times.

  17. Emma K says:

    This is a great debate but Martin, you’re scaring me a little. If there’s a mass flu pandemic I know where I’ll be pointing the finger…

  18. Going viral indeed, just takes one.

  19. Alexia Golez says:

    If something was truly viral, it shouldn’t need to be pushed by a company, Martin? Should it? Surely sustainable waves of sharing between people equates to virality?

    “I have no direct control over the spread, but I can set the conditions for it to spread, and also help it to spread by continued seeding at opportune times.”

    Real viral memes don’t require occasional grooming (or seeding) do they? Out of the 34 million views that Susan Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent video on Youtube got in the first week, I wonder how much grooming the producers did.. Hmm..

  20. Martin says:

    @Alexia: Yes, there are absolutely real viral memes, and there’s a big distinction between them and orchestrated viral marketing. But this all started because it was stated that orchestrating it wasn’t possible. I’m just trying to get to the main point:

    Is it impossible and viral marketing doesn’t actually exist?, or can it still be viral, can a company set the conditions as favourably as possible and also seed it in a way that causes viral spread?

    I believe the second option is true, but I would love more explanation on why it’s possibly not.

    Yes, Susan Boyle was an example of an organic meme.

    I believe your description of a ‘sustainable waves of sharing between people equates to virality’ to be very accurate, so perhaps I was innaccurate and undermined my own concept of vm when I said ‘continue seeding.’ But I do believe it is possible to have an idea (or cynically, steal someone elses), develop it with the express purpose of having it turn viral, and then seed it and watch the waves come and go.

    If you believe ‘viral’ can ONLY apply to an original meme, then that’s the difference between us. I would classify ‘viral’ as the means of information spread, and the contents (the payload of the virus) to be capable of being an original meme or orchestrated viral marketing.

    “If something was truly viral, it shouldn’t need to be pushed by a company, Martin? ” – Well yes. You are correct. The company designs the campaign to be vm, they seed it, and thats what I would see as constituting the ‘push.’ Everything needs a push.