Viral Video Code

Yesterday evening, I had a look at a few dozen ‘viral’ videos and realized that there is a reasonably simple code for constructing them:

(funny AND/OR sexy AND/OR cool) AND surprising AND absurd

What led me to this thinking was a link by Seth Godin to a review of various ‘types’ of viral videos. There are some 21 categories of viral videos in this review. I had a look at pretty much all of them and then went to YouTube to have a look at the characteristics of videos with many views. Like this one:


Looking at all these viral videos (like the one above), I started thinking that there are three elements to all of them:

– I must like what I see and think other people will like it, too (The ‘Yeah!’ factor)

– I must be surprised by the video (The ‘What!?’ factor)

– I must think the video to be (at least slightly) absurd (The ‘No way!!’ factor)

In the simplest way, I must think: Yeah! What!? No Way!! If I do that, then I am likely to forward the video. In some more detail.

Funny/Sexy/Cool -> Yeah! Factor

All viral videos I have seen so far either have at least one elements of ‘fun’, ‘sex’ or ‘cool’ or any combination of the three. I guess these are the three things that we all enjoy and and that we all want to be seen as being. Who wouldn’t want to be cool, sexy and funny…?

Surprise -> What!? Factor

There are many videos in the world. Even a lot of funny ones. But unless they surprise us, they don’t stand out. This makes us look up and really notice a video. Surprise as an emotion also intensifies the other three preceeding emotions.

Absurd -> No Way!! factor

There has to be an element of wanting to share the video. I think this is the absurdity factor. Or the disbelief factor. This is our excuse to forward a video: “Look at this, no way!” It helps us distance ourself from the video, so we don’t look silly for forwarding it.

Overall, I can find this pattern in each viral video I have looked at so far. Now, for the pro’s amongst you, I am sure you can find many good ways of creating videos that are:

(funny AND/OR sexy AND/OR cool) AND surprising AND absurd

In order to understand how to go about it, check out some additional categories in the review that I mentioned before. Good stuff.


The above doesn’t just apply to videos, but to all forms of media that can be shared online, like presentations:

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