To Twerk Or Not To Twerk: Thoughts on Virality

October 9, 2013 Content Marketing no comments

Courtesy of this YouTube Channel

UPDATED This post has been updated on 3rd October 2016 to include new content.

Have you heard of the PPAP song? If you haven’t, you must’ve been living on another non-digital planet.

Also known as the Pen Pineapple Apple Pen song, the short 51 second ditty by Japanese comedian Kazuhiko Kosaka (who plays the fictional character named Piko-Taro) has sparked off an endless number of memes around the planet.

Have a look and a listen to the original below. Warning – it’s a super-sticky ear worm!

[youtube id=”d9TpRfDdyU0″]

Fighting for Attention in a Digitally Distracted World

Love it or loathe it, virality (or buzz) appears to be the most talked about ingredient in the social age.

Don’t believe me? Consider the following:

1) In a world with millions of channels, the only content which appears to matter are the stuff which makes us sit up, notice, and share.

2) Attention is the most deficient resource in our constantly distracted, perpetually connected, mobile and digital world. If you can’t grab my eyeballs when I scroll through my news feeds, you’re as good as non-existent.

3) With trust at an absolute all time low, people are only going to pay attention to stuff which they have to (because it is mandated by law) or stuff which immediately leaps out at them because it is hilarious, outrageous or scandalous.

4) Nobody is going to invest more than a couple of seconds (if you’re lucky) to see, hear and view what you’ve got to say.

The challenge, however, is this. Does going viral equate success? More importantly, is it absolutely necessary to succeed in a social-digital world?

The Infamous Miley Cyrus Twerk

By now, you’ve probably heard of the infamous Miley Cyrus twerk at the Video Music Awards (VMA). The former Disney child star’s antics with Robin Thicke have drawn much fury across a wide spectrum of society. It has also gone hugely viral across the Internet.

The infamous Miley Cyrus and her twerk (source of image)

While I certainly wouldn’t advocate Miley as a role model for kids, marketing professor Jonah Berger feels that generating negative publicity like this may actually be the best career move for Miley. In fact, Berger’s research revealed that negative reviews can increase sales by a whopping 45% for unknown authors releasing their first book!

(You can read more about Berger’s ideas in STEPPS to Making Your Content Contagious.)

With this singular sensational/scandalous move, Miley has generated so much buzz that the word twerk is now part of our urban lexicon.

It also raised the ire of fellow celebrities Sinead O’ Connor (Nothing Compares to You) and Amanda Palmer. Both these ladies have penned open letters to Miley Cyrus chastising her for her stripper/flasher behaviour. If you’re keen, do read their opposing stances and let me know what you think.

What Did Seth Godin Say?

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin pointed us to another viral music video making the rounds. Titled “What The Fox Say”, the video has all the elements of virality. Quoting Godin:

“…Archie McPhee animal costumes, nonsense words, just the right sort of production values, superfluous subtitles, appropriate silliness…”

[youtube id=”jofNR_WkoCE”]

(Go ahead and view it. I promise it won’t be as offensive/NSFW as Miley’s twerks)

What I found enlightening was Godin’s take on virality, namely that “most of the time, you’ll aim to delight the masses and you’ll fail”.

Now how many of you can still remember the name of the band which produced that song? Or that video?

Secret Formulas for Virality?

Of course, there are lots of people who disagree. In fact, a white paper released by Unruly claimed that timing the launch and getting the creative right could lead to higher probabilities of viral video success.

Their research showed that videos which created intense feelings of “warmth”, “happiness”, “awe”, and “pride” blended with “critical social motivations” which encouraged people to share led to greater virality.

I also stumbled across these five secrets to super successful video marketing which purported that all you need to do are the following:

  • Centre it around the story – not the sale;
  • Focus on the first 10 seconds and make it the best ever;
  • Lighten up and make it funny;
  • Optimize for search and use the right tags; and
  • Teach and educate your target audience.

Somebody have even created a viral video to prove their point (which sadly wasn’t anywhere near viral).

[youtube id=”c5K6eMwE9NU”]

Long-Term Customer Value Trumps Short-Term Virality

Personally, I find it silly and risky for organisations to bet the farm and only invest in creating the “ultimate viral video”. While your audience numbers will certainly spike when your “viral” campaign unfolds, sustaining your community’s interest over the long-haul should be what you work towards.

Instead of focusing so much energy and resources on generating buzz – which may or may not come – wouldn’t it be more fruitful to provide continual value to your customers?

In my mind, this would mean any of the following activities:

  • Helping customers to solve their problems
  • Sharing content which both educates and entertains customers
  • Providing unparalleled customer service (like the legendary Zappos here.)
  • Building community and strengthening online relationships

While being insanely customer-focused may not clinch you a Golden Lion, Effie, or Creative Circle award, it may be more sustainable – and profitable – over the long run.

My views are mirrored by Mr Godin.

While he is certainly a “viral” marketing sensation (in more ways than one), Seth Godin sagely advised us that it is much better to think long-term. Quoting from him:

“It is so much easier to aim for the smallest possible audience, not the largest, to build long-term value among a trusted, delighted tribe, to create work that matters and stands the test of time.” – Seth Godin

Now, I certainly cannot argue with that. Can you?


By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

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