The Secret Strategies Behind Many 'Viral' Videos or why Dan Ackerman Greenberg is an idiot

[Disclaimer: I realise the last thing I should be doing is giving this guy more visibility and mentions on the web, but his original article, as well as his follow-up REALLY rubbed me up the wrong way and I need to vent it out.]

When I took on my first marketing role, some years ago now, I quickly realised that the term marketing, like sales came with a lot of negative baggage. Since then, I’ve met enough marketers who fit the awful cliché to see why the name has been sullied for good.

I’ve made it my personal goal to never, ever fit in with the stereotype of the marketer who is willing to lie, cheat and sell his firstborn child for the sake of hitting some haphazard target numbers set by a boss in an executive leather chair in a clinical office boardroom. I want marketing to be about a great product and an honest passion for the community to whom it brings a solution to a problem. I only want to work for company directors who have visions I can agree with, and marketing managers who have their heart and their ethics in the right place. Call me idealistic or naïve, but that’s how this girl rolls.

This morning, I came across a TechCrunch guest post by a guy called Dan who claims his viral video marketing agency can take average videos and shoot them into the viral fame sphere. He candidly starts with this introduction:

“Have you ever watched a video with 100,000 views on YouTube and thought to yourself: “How the hell did that video get so many views?” Chances are pretty good that this didn’t happen naturally, but rather that some company worked hard to make it happen – some company like mine.”

Now, I’m not new to paid blog posts, fake forum users and spam comments encouraging users to go view videos. I know very well how much money some companies will pay to get some of that hard-to-get attention time from viewers. In fact, I’ve been asked in the past to take part in every single one of these types of grey-area tactics, and have held my position. The Internet is polluted enough as it is, I won’t be adding to the spam that goes around by lowering myself to talking to myself on a public forum, pretending to be some teeny bopper who loves whatever product I’m asked to market.

What rubs me the wrong way is the apparent pride with which Dan talks about his agency, while knowing very well that what he’s doing is a. ethically wrong, b. taking the lazy route, c. quite likely to one day blow up in his face.

In his follow-up post, Dan apologises for the tone he took in his article and does a 180 degrees on his claims of spam tactics. His attempt at saving face with the sudden claim that he does not spam or manipulate people is pathetic and pretty damn weak.

There are two scenarios that could’ve led Dan to require that second mea culpa post:

  • Either he does use dirty tactics and was a bit too honest, which makes him a moron for not foreseeing how others, with more ethics than him, would be incensed and angered by his post. If he can’t foresee consequences this obvious, do you really want him marketing your product?
  • Or he’s being a gusty bastard and did this specifically to get a rise out of people for the sake of some publicity, spicing his article with a few sensationalistic techniques he doesn’t necessarily always use. If that’s the case, he’s still an idiot for claiming to use frankly spammy techniques.

Either way, Dan, it still makes you an ethically-twisted little shit.

Unlike me, Ian Delaney doesn’t get his knickers in a twist, and focuses on the positives in Dan’s post, and highlights the things we can learn from successful viral videos.

  • Make it short: 15-30 seconds is ideal; break down long stories into bite-sized clips
  • Design for remixing: create a video that is simple enough to be remixed over and over again by others. Ex: “Dramatic Hamster”
  • Don’t make an outright ad: if a video feels like an ad, viewers won’t share it unless it’s really amazing. Ex: Sony Bravia
  • Make it shocking: give a viewer no choice but to investigate further. Ex: “UFO Haiti”
  • Use fake headlines: make the viewer say, “Holy shit, did that actually happen?!” Ex: “Stolen Nascar”
  • Appeal to sex: if all else fails, hire the most attractive women available to be in the video. Ex: “Yoga 4 Dudes”

So while there’s a bit to learn from Dan’s posts, I just hope everyone remembers that there are plenty of ethical, community-centered and honest people in the marketing world who will agree that dodgy spamming and paid links just isn’t fair play. While dirty tricks might work short-term, you can’t build a community through it, and in the long run, that’s what matters.

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