A Q&A with Mischievious Studios’ Christiano Covino, continued:
Your early branded entertainment projects were usually song parodies which incorporated brands and products into the video. Why did you start with those types of integrations?
We didn’t intend to get into parodies, it happened sort of fortuitously. We had been approached by long time client, music app company Smule, to get 15–18 year old girls to download their Magic Piano app. We dove into a ton of research on the demographic, what they watch, wear, listen to, browse, and how they share and where they do it. This extensive research and profiling led us to an obviously simple truth: Young girls love Justin Bieber. We knew his new song was dropping soon, and so we explained our intentions to Smule, we would build a branded parody that was valuable to the Beliebers (Bieber fans), in the hopes that they would share like crazy.
We wrote the lyrics at midnight when his song released, recorded it the next day, shot the following day and released it two days later. Justin hadn’t even had time to shoot his music video yet, so our video would serve to satiate the Beliebers’ appetite. We began sending it to key Bieber fangirls with a fair amount of clout in their Bieber fan circle. The video played on the inside joke that all Bieber fan girls have one overwhelming desire: to have Justin all to themselves. Our parody featured an overly obsessed fan who kidnaps Justin and forces him to be her “boyfriend”, using the product to serenade him while he is tied up.
The Beliebers began spreading the video like crazy on twitter, sharing it with tweets like “This is so me” or “OMG! my cousin would totally do this.” We had created a piece of content that had social currency to a group, and they shared it because each of them wanted to be the one who discovered such a valuable execution of their inside joke.
Eight days later, after being sent the video hundreds of time, Bieber tweeted it and put it on his Facebook page, sending us over 400,000 views that day and making it the most viewed video of the day. And guess how much we paid for him to endorse our branded content, and by proxy, Smule? $0. The views haven’t slowed since, garnering over 20 million views in a little over a year. A few brands have come to us since, asking us to replicate the success for them with more parodies. We obliged and suddenly found ourselves producing a lot of parodies last year.
You’ve worked with a lot of big brands, including Ford, Intel, and P&G. But you also claim to reject the traditional agency model of creating content and then using media buys to reach consumers in favor of using “grassroots” methods to help a video go viral. Why? What’s wrong with the traditional structure when it comes to online video?
The problem with media buys is that they attempt to take advantage of a captive audience, shoving the content in front of people when they trying to do something else. They are a distraction, so they will be treated as such.
For example, when you watch one of our branded videos, you’ll sometimes get a pre-roll ad, usually a repurposed TV commercial. You’ll ignore that ad, or even mute it, just trying to get to the video that you’re trying to watch. Then you’ll watch our video, laugh, be entertained, and become familiar with a brand. Now at the end, if we asked you what product the pre-roll was for, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell us. But you would remember the brand that was integrated into our video, because you were focusing on the content that you chose to watch, not the content you were forced to watch.
The trick is getting people to choose to watch your content. That’s part of our special sauce…
Many people claim to have the tools to make a video go viral. But really it feels that most videos that go viral have more to do with luck than anything that was planned. How would you respond to that criticism?
There’s no luck involved in virality, only misunderstood or unknown reasons why it blew up. Any content that has ever gone viral did so because it had enough value to a specific type of person that he or she felt compelled to pass it on.
So what’s the formula?
The best way to ensure virality is to create something that has a ton of value to a specific group of people. Know this audience. Pay attention, and know what they will want to watch and share. Then create something that will entertain THEM, not just the brand managers or other people at your agency.
It’s also important to understand that successful virality is not about reaching 20 million views. It’s about reaching a percentage of your target audience. If you’re trying to reach 18–25 year old bird house enthusiasts, and there are only 70,000 of them online, Then a bird-house related video that gets 35,000 views from the 18–25 year old bird-house community is a viral success. 50% audience reach is great, even if the view count doesn’t near the millions.
The key is to know your audience, create something valuable for them, and get it to them in a straightforward way so they can share it. Virality is literally a measure of sharability, not an arbitrary view threshold that is crossed. So focus on reaching the maximum percentage of your audience, not lusting after lots of zeros on your view count.