top of page

When word spreads like a virus

We’ve lived with Virals swarming across our social media platforms and digital channels, for quite a while now. And no consideration of the relentless impact of Virals is complete without reference to cat videos. Obviously.

So, let’s start there, with the best cat viral ever created.

Apart from being an ‘homage’ to an iconic ring tone – performed by a very clever cat – this video is the best cat viral because it has been CREATED.

A creative mind was involved in generating something unforgettable.

That – in my view – is a vitally important factor. Videos that go viral because they are the serendipitous capturing of a spontaneous, unplanned moment… however poignant or emotive… can’t really command the same degree of respect as a video like the one featuring a xylophone-playing-cat, can they? I think we have to distinguish between what might be called ‘found art’ and the creative expression of an engaged mind or minds. Virals that successfully break into our collective consciousness and which are shared universally are proof of their own specialness. They have been designed to be shared – and if they are shared, then the design has evidently worked!

When the design works, it deserves to be studied.

Because, if we are in the business of communication and engagement, there just might be some lessons to learn.


Being a committed virologist, versed in the lore of virality, I have been visiting and revisiting a number of virals that have been created to elevate, augment, or transform perceptions and understanding of a brand or product. They represent money well spent. The first of these is a viral that’s as brilliant today as it was when it was first released and spread around the world within 48 hours.

This viral brilliantly captured the importance of the product offered within 50 seconds and did so in a manner that demanded spontaneous sharing. This viral acknowledges and demonstrates a set of 5 principles that I call:

The VIRULES 1. Don’t short change the viewer - treating her/him like an idiot who needs spoon feeding. The viewer must do some of the narrative work. 2. Don’t be risk-averse. This narrative plays into a dark comedic space and the brand is associated with the edgy quality of that comedy. 3. Avoid taking longer than 60 seconds to make your point. (This rule is less hard-and-fast than the others… but, it is a good premise to work to) 4. Pick your emotion. Almost always funny is the way to go. Funny is what people want to share and return to most.

5. Every viral should have the impact of great on-screen storytelling – so cheap shouldn’t be a pre-ordained part of the success criteria.

Oh, and then there’s rule 6:

Never be afraid to break any of the above rules if you know they are likely to get in the way of a successful viral.

Which brings me to the next example of a viral I never tire of. This viral breaks VIRULE 3. It is more than 60 seconds long. At least, the extended version is. And it was extended because the viral audience who shared it like non-fattening, perfect tasting chocolate – wanted more. The brand that created this video is Subaru. The brand is never mentioned. But the video completely transforms what you think of Subaru. They claim the innovation/individuality/cool/clever space. This viral is as fresh today as it was when it was first released into the universe.

Things go wrong when we assume that creating something specifically for the digital space automatically qualifies our ‘creation’ for the right to be regarded as a viral. It is possible to stick to a number of the VIRULES and not achieve the objective. And that tends to be because we sometimes disregard the most important VIRULE of all... To create content with the intention of being unforgettable - as hard as it is - we have to push and push to…

be original

If you’re a business/organisation/brand looking to capture the imagination of any audience, originality has to be at the top of the shopping list. Because, when it comes to the creation of content that is intended to 'go viral’ we can all trust our instincts about what originality looks like.

We understand the ‘form’ precisely because we are seduced by it.


The Golden VIRULE: Choose Originality.

That is, of course, a statement of the obvious.

And in the highly competitive world of viral-attention-seeking, you just can’t do the obvious.

Hmmm. All this viral watching makes a person peckish.

Anyone fancy a sandwich?

bottom of page