The value of something that has ‘gone viral’ is not in the thing that exploded in the first place; it’s in your ability to sustain that viral audience past the first impression. The big questions are: how close is the thing that’s gone viral to the rest of your work? How many people that were hooked by your viral hit are going to like your other stuff?
“’Going viral is diametrically opposed to building that trust and relationship between a media property and an audience,’ Mr. Louderback said. ‘Brands spend all this time thinking about how to make something go viral when they ought to think about how to create a meaningful relationship.’”
- NY Times article on advertising, found via Lefsetz Letter
That’s a pretty meaty quote. The point is that ‘going viral’ is actually the exact opposite of what you want to have happen when you’re trying to build a long-term relationship with an audience. Virals are lightning in a bottle, they’re gone just as quickly as they came, and you risk creating a demand for something you aren’t willing or capable of producing again. On the flip side, you build a fan base by consistently meeting your audience’s expectations time after time.
This is why I got an uneasy feeling when I heard of the viral explosion of this video:
I can’t help but lump this in with other cringe-worthy pieces of kitsch like the Bears’ Super Bowl Shuffle and its subsequent knockoffs. I’m still trying to figure out if this is worse than the WCG theme song:
OK…listening to that again, it’s WAY worse. Anyway…
The ‘Banelings’ Bieber spoof is nearing 3.5 million views. Viral hits feel great, as they’re unfolding, the adrenaline starts moving. You keep checking your stats, and you’re getting more views per hour on this one piece of content than you have subscribers. Did we really create a hit?
Then the week after comes, the dust settles. What now?
I’ve discussed this with a few fellow gamers. They don’t really see any danger in Husky becoming ‘that banelings guy.’ Thing is, a first impression is so huge these days; you aren’t afforded many opportunities to redefine your ‘brand’ with someone if they’ve already been exposed to it once before, and already have an idea as to what to expect from you.
You put out that first video, or song, or essay, or tweet, or whatever that gets taken into the stratosphere by people whom it resonates instantly with on a very superficial level. The first question they’re going to ask you is: you got more stuff like that?
This video is completely different than anything else that Husky puts out. That’s why this shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of massive victory in a battle to bridge gaming culture and the mainstream. Husky’s subscription count increased 10% since the release of the video. But how many are just waiting for the next ‘Banelings’ and aren’t really interested in Husky’s core product - commentary of Starcraft matches? Will stunts like this really increase interest in esports?
Viral hits only turn into long-term success if you’re able to follow up on it immediately with something else similar. By their very nature, viral hits are more powerful than the people that created them. You can either hop on and ride them to the next stop, not defined by you but defined by what the first hit was; or let it whoosh by, chalk it up as a fluke, and go back to doing what you do best. It’ll be interesting to see what course Husky takes: Starcraft commentator, or Starcraft’s Weird Al?