Making Viral Video Work

By now maybe you’ve seen the OfficeMax series of videos featuring an improv actor wandering around New York City trying make everyday purchases using just pennies. You can view a sample below.

Check out the entire Penny Pranks series on YouTube

On top of being very entertaining though, these videos are a very good example of what can be done using video. While OfficeMax used a very professional crew and director, the videos have that homemade, user generated feel that is the current expectation. But, what I like most is that the videos support and amplify an big marketing promotion – the back to school for a penny items.

Too often people set out to create the next viral hit with no real thought to how it might support a brand or promote a campaign. It’s tough to get any piece of marketing to truly go viral, most of the time you get lucky, but if you’re going to get lucky, why not make it an effective marketing tool as well!

This series has been viewed several million times and my guess is the benefit to OfficeMax has been tremendous.


office max, penny pranks, YouTube

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  1. It always seems like it should be easy to make a video/picture go viral – you think “well, I’ll just make something funny and then tie it to some marketing strategy I’m doing and VOILA!, it’ll work!” But they are impossible to manufacture. It’s pretty much gotta happen organically. Seems like we can influence the ENVIRONMENT for viral in these ways:

    1) Humor is almost essential – but a risky thing to try and be unless people tell you that you are funny

    2) WOW FACTOR! – if not humor, then something stunning, amazing. Something that captivates your mind and makes you think “how’d they do that?”

    3) TAKING THE MUNDANE TO ANOTHER LEVEL – doing something we all have thought about or wondered about and do it – this guy makes perfect “sense” – pennies are money, but we all know that people don’t pay with pennies anymore? I mean, what about that whole VISA campaign that says to us that we shouldn’t even pay with CASH of any denomination any more!

    4) BREVITY – while a few viral videos I have watched last several minutes, seems like the best are under 2 minutes. Enough time for me to get excited and end laughing . . . no time for me to lull back into “watching the video” – I’ve got to be ENGAGED!

    5) EASY TO SPREAD – my sons just eat off the floor, so it’s no wonder they catch viruses – viruses spread because they are easily caught – make the process easy for people to forward (using YouTube is certainly one easy way) – allow people to share it easily (embed it in their sites or capture a quick link). This then travels across emails, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc…

    The one I left off because I am wrestling with the truth about it: My thought was that you can’t MAKE a viral video – I can only foster the environment where people might start passing it around. But I see OfficeMax doing this and wonder, “but isn’t this INTENDED to be viral – it’s as manufactured as you can get.” So there is a place for those natural organic viral videos (I mean, even there, people doing them because they want alot of people to watch), but I guess if done right, it can be manufactured as part of a strategic marketing campaign. Seems like there, though, is the biggest risk for looking unauthentic.

    Care to agree or disagree with anything I’ve said . . anyone?

  2. thanks for posting about our campaign john. appreciate it. i am the creative director of the ad agency that produced it.

    randy, having been lucky enough to have a few viral hits in my career, i tend to agree with you. you can’t make a viral hit. you can only aim for the viral hoop and hope for the best. and obey the law of viral video: be really interesting. my biggest concern with this campaign was that it had to carry a serious retail message. so the trick was making the fun part sync directly with the retail part. and not have the payoff seem like a disconnect or a bummer.

    thank you too michael. glad you liked. sticky is good.


  3. @Vinny – Thanks for your comments. Fantastic campaign! After watching hours of viral videos and being entertained a majority of the time I started wondering what the strategies for retail viral hits could be. It just seems like everything is typically random and quirky. I could imagine it would be hard to tie the retail message in without turning off the viewer. Great job!!

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