Now that YouTube officially supports 15-minute videos, Andy Warhol’s dictum that we’d all be famous for 15 minutes has proven more than a little prescient. Viral video is nothing to scoff at. There’s more than just page-view bragging rights at stake–there’s real money to be made. (Get popular enough, and YouTube will cut you in on ad revenue.)
Of course, making a Web video that really clicks with the digerati isn’t easy. We’re here to help, having ferreted out the top themes that make a video go viral. It isn’t rocket science. It’s art, luck, and, usually, a lot of simple stupidity.
Here are the essential components of a successful viral video.
YouTube was made for short clips, and the pinnacle of that genre is the music video. More than one big-name musical act got their start here through viral video, and you can too. The catch is this: Unless you’re a professional (if you don’t already know whether you are a professional, we assure you, you’re not), the worse you sing, the more popular you’re likely to be. Lyrics are important. By that we mean they must be absolutely horrible.
Don’t forget to move away from the mic to breathe in.
Seriously, my mother is still sending me “Evolution of Dance” four years after Judson Laipply originated it.
People love dancing. Just look at the popularity of Dancing with the Stars. Yes, most people tune in to watch the biggest train wrecks of the celebrity C-list derail, but they’re also dancing.
Better than simply busting a move, of course, is dancing in an unexpected place. Breakdancing in line at the supermarket? Good. Arranging a “Thriller” jam at grandpa’s funeral? Even better.
The only problem with the dance video? Dancing is hard. Check The Learning Annex for lessons near you.
Did you know that America’s Funniest Home Videos is still on the air? Season 21 starts later this month, and that show is nothing but nut shots. Why are injuries so popular? It takes so little talent to pull one off. Anyone can fall down a flight of stairs, try to jump a motorcycle over a house, or skateboard into a Dumpster. Just be spectacular, whatever you do. See also: Jackass.
The zoo is your friend, but be patient. Although all of God’s creatures are prone to hilarious behavior, rarely will they entertain on command. Train your camera on something that offers potential comedic value and hope for the best, such as a panda with seasonal allergies or a rodent with a proven penchant for the dramatic. Naturally your own pet can provide endless amounts of amusement, especially cats. The Japanese seemingly take endless pleasure in seeing cats get in and out of boxes, and your kitty can certainly do that with a little encouragement. Also consider what you have in your possession that your dog or cat’s head could possibly get stuck in.
Next Up: Medicated kids, biting babies, hysterical rants, and remixes.
Are you, or is someone you know, medicinally impaired to the point of incoherence? You, my friend, have a viral video on your hands. Simple drunkenness or stonitude don’t seem to bring the page views the way that a really good prescription can. Ask your doctor for painkillers and mix your medications liberally to see what happens. Have a stone-faced cameraman with a steady hand at the ready to capture the results.
With 230 million views, this video of a baby biting his brother is the most-watched amateur YouTube video ever (only two professional music videos are more popular). Baby videos alone don’t cut the mustard. The baby must generally be causing harm to someone or something. Think about your resources. Do you have a pet that the baby can terrorize? Expensive furniture the baby can destroy?
What, no baby? Try Craigslist.
If you have absolutely no props, no ideas, and no talent, hysterical behavior is always a good bet. Take a hot-button issue of the minute (check the last three entries on Perez Hilton’s site), and riff liberally. The more unpopular your chosen subject, the better. The key to this is that your defense of said celebrity must be irrational and pointless. Exhibit even the slightest semblance of coherence, and you will lose your audience.
The downside: A person typically gets a single shot at the hysteria video before being ushered into irrelevance as a crank. It’s like the nuclear option–powerful, but you get to use it only once.
When in doubt, redo something that someone more clever than you has already done. It takes only a little spin to turn a massively popular Web sensation into a slightly less popular one. Unfortunately, it does still take talent and foresight to grab opportunities for satire where they exist. And, as always, being first to the punch is critical. The 84th “Leave Britney Alone” parody just doesn’t draw the lulz the way the the first one did.
Take any of the above, or even a simple news story, and set it to music. Auto-Tune will set you back only $199. Turning a spoken-word video into music takes talent, but the payoff can be huge. Some remixers even end up selling their creations on iTunes. Don’t forget to send a thank-you note to your source.
Like this? Now watch the 10 funniest tech videos from around the world.
(And if you manage to get all of these elements into a single YouTube video of your own, leave a link in the comments below. We’d love to see it.)