The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec


The first rule of going viral? There are no shortcuts


By Dom Burch, managing director

December 8, 2015 | 5 min read

The first rule of shortcuts? There are no shortcuts.

In life there are seldom any decent shortcuts. That's not to say we don't all take them from time to time.

We're all occasionally looking for an easy route, the path of least resistance or a secret formula that negates the need to do the hard yards over and over again.

I read an interesting blog this morning that got me thinking.

Titled the Ad Contrarian, the writer makes the point that the social media industry loves nothing more than a miracle. And each miracle then becomes the poster child for whatever hustle the promoters happen to be running that year.

"We have become exceptional at convincing ourselves that every singularity is a trend and every one-off is a movement."

It reminded me of a marketing faux pas of a few years ago where brands were queuing up to make a 'viral' video. Even typing those fateful words makes me cringe and shudder.

The Ad Contrarian continues:

"Despite the hundreds of Powerpoint presentations created to explain the "Five Lessons Of The Oreo Tweet" (like here, here, here) or "What You Should Learn From The Ice Bucket Challenge," (here, here, here, here, here, ad nauseam) the simple fact is that not one of these big successes has been reproduced by anyone else. In fact, it turns out that each of them was anomaly that had very little, if anything, to teach us."

So let's look back at one of those viral videos from yesteryear that promised so little, and delivered even less.

Picture the scene.

A disused warehouse in Manchester.

A load of semi professional actors (calling them amateurs, when it was my idea not theirs, feels a tad harsh).

The hilarious idea was thus. Why not do a spoof version of Fight Club? But instead of the secret world of fighting, we'd create the secret world of pocket tapping.

I know, I know. You don't need to tell me. I've lived with it ever since. I wake up at night screaming "the first rule of pocket tap is we don't talk about pocket tap..."

I can't even bring myself to watch it.

Five years on, our viral video has notched up a remarkable 251 views.

251 individuals have somehow been subjected to this abject failure in social media content.

The idea was flawed. Clearly.

The production itself was half decent and a credit to Lion Eyes considering what we gave them to work with. A poor brief. No budget. And a shit idea.

It's one of those moments I look back on with dread in my career, but it also taught me an important lesson, and helped prove what deep down I always knew, but chose to ignore.

Wanting something to go viral isn't enough.

Mimicking other things that have gone viral is not enough.

Things go viral because people choose to share them. Things go viral because they strike a chord. Things go viral because they serendipitously coincide with a moment in time.

I've told that embarrassing anecdote at every PR and social media event and every industry occasion possible. Not to prove what an idiot I am, but so others don't fall into the same trap.

If you think you've found a shortcut, think again.

There's more than likely a hidden trap door into a dark basement with a bunch of actors patting their backsides with glee.

Follow Dom on Twitter @domburch


More from Video

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +