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Original Content: Hunting the Internet’s Elusive Unicorn

January 4, 2012 Posted in Design, Internet, Motion Graphics, Social Media by

Original Content: Hunting the Internet's Elusive Unicorn
Original content is the Internet’s favorite illicit drug.  Those online groups who claim to be the gatekeepers of all that is good, bad and truly ugly on the Internet covet it.  You could sell it to the parents’ basement dwelling 4chan’ers or trade it to redditors looking for their next opportunity to karma-whore.  So, what is original content and why should you, a reputable businessman or woman, be concerned with it?

It’s not a new term you need to look up on Urban Dictionary, but is actually what it sounds like it is.  Videos, info graphics, pictures where you’ve swapped the faces of your friends from their Facebook images (it appears this was also quite amusing even before the internet–Rene Magritte’s Spirit of Geometry), Fenton throwing caution to the wind to run with the deer, and many other ridiculous possibilities…well maybe it’s not entirely what it sounds like it is.  But, what’s important about it is that it’s something new and never before seen or possibly is second-hand but with a fresh spin (Kaboom!).  The content is witty, interesting, funky, makes you say wtf, maybe even makes you a bit queasy at times, whatever it is it shares this one strange characteristic, you want to show it to your friends or family.

That’s one of the phenomena’s about the Internet, it’s a source for learning about nearly anything and everything, and for those things you wish you could “unsee” (oh how your pictures haunt me WebMD).  You could easily fall into the perception that it’s all been done and seen before thanks to Al Gore and his Internet.  However, there are those moments when you stumble across something you’ve never seen and you are compelled to share it (of course our thought process is if I haven’t seen it then surely no one else has!).  That’s the phenomena though, wanting to share something you believe is new and never before seen by your friends, and is the key reason you and your business should care about original content.

Now that we’ve talked about what it is and why it is important, let’s discuss creating that content.  First, let’s be honest and agree that you don’t need help from me to create a commercial for your product or any other marketing scheme you’ve dreamed up.  New content is added to the Internet at an absurd rate and some of it has truly never been seen, but that does not mean it is the original content as defined and discussed here.  I have never felt the inclination to share a Geico commercial with friends or post Modern Warfare posters to my Facebook wall, although I know people do this. These pieces of content never become “viral” because they lack the unique characteristics of original content; instead, they resemble common marketing schemes and feel like a reincarnation of something we’ve seen before. That’s not to say that those pieces of content aren’t good and don’t work as intended, they just never enter the realm of original content, where on occasion videos and images are passed around like the Corrupted Blood plague of 2005.

Second, there is no readily defined formula for creating the type of original content that soon becomes a wild fire.  It’s not an exact science; instead, it’s a bit more like alchemy and you may find yourself imbibing some unusual concoctions.  But, we can examine past successes, especially those that are more recent, and narrow down where that damn unicorn lives and how you might take it for a ride—btw it’s not a robot unicorn. I’m tempted to make the claim that all the great original content had its genesis with the internet, but that’s not true in every case. Recall the Apple commercial with the Big Brother motif, or the more recent Old Spice commercials. Even if the internet isn’t the starting point, it has proven that large scale advertising campaigns that include multi-million dollar commercials aren’t necessary to become popular. However, I will confidently say that the internet is your best source for helping you to create original content, a perfect example being the Tiger Woods 09 video response from EA (which we will examine below).

You can breakdown original content into 3 categories, shocking and humorous content, inspiring and impressive content, and troll content.  There may be instances of overlap where the original content falls mainly in the impressive category but also is funny or shocking, this is especially true with troll content and we will discuss that in detail later, but these categories will help in our comparisons. Also, these are by no means the definitive pieces of original content for each category. These are meant as examples and aids in helping us learn from past fads and successes. Where I was able I used more recent content and therefore may have left out more popular videos or images.

Shocking and Humorous Content

Original content that’s focused on being funny is the most prevalent due to the fact that comedy is arguably the easiest route to popularity. You might be tempted to say sexual content provides an easier path to internet fame and question why I left it out of my categories. There’s no doubt you can get people to click ads or watch videos on Youtube by having provocative pictures or text. And if you look at some of the most watched videos on Youtube you will see examples of this, but sexual content is a different beast altogether. Users share this type of content less because it is perceived as inappropriate, especially in a public setting. Generally, you’re less likely to share that video of girls jumping on a trampoline on your Facebook wall than the video of Hasan Baba’s Apache Dance. The sharing phenomena discussed above doesn’t pertain to sexual content, and is the reason for being left off this list.

Humor is an incredible motivator for sharing because of the desire many people have to make others laugh, and can be used to make some possibly questionable content more acceptable (girl’s workout example). Most of the instances where I come across something I feel compelled to share is because I thought the content was hilarious and believe my friends would enjoy it too. With regards to creating a comical campaign for a product or company, you will rarely see popular content that is solely focused on being funny. What I mean is, you can’t draw too much attention to the fact that you’re trying to be funny. We’ve all been in the company of a friend or acquaintance that is just trying too hard to make others laugh and everything they say or do ends up feeling forced more than anything else. So, how do you avoid that unnatural feeling? The answer to that question at least partially falls under the “alchemy” of original content. But to be sure, you can’t expect your body wash video to become wildly popular just by having funny things to say or counting on visual jokes. Instead, the combination of a beautifully seamless shot with silly imagery, witty dialogue and an actor that has an aura of confidence is what was required to propel Old Spice to the apex of advertising (here is a reminder if you forgot). Although, Hercules has another approach to letting the audience know he’s disappointed.

Shocking your audience is a bit more difficult, but can yield similar results to humor. It’s not all about car wrecks, fails and broken bones even though these are popular. You want your audience to ask themselves, “how did they do that” or “I can’t believe they did that,” rather than showing gore and other visually disturbing images. There are a few pertinent questions you need to ask yourself before you begin creating this type of content. Who is your audience and what might be perceived as shocking? What norms can I and should I attempt to break? Where is the line between offensive and shocking with regards to your material? The greatest sin of this type of content is to go too far.

What to take note of: How to Piss in Public is a wonderful example of using silly humor and a common dilemma. Here, the success can be attributed not just to the farcical circumstances, but to the seemingly well thought out and legitimate tactics that feel like serious advice. I ended up watching this several times as I showed it to a few different groups of friends, and needless to say, “a pisser doesn’t pontificate” was repeated for quite some time afterwards. Witty, absurd and sometimes honest advice made this a hit for Vans and the OfftheWall.tv crew.

What to take note of: Hastily Made Cleveland Cleveland Tourism Video pokes fun at tourism marketing and the typical poorly made video. The description talks about the creator receiving $14 million about 8 months ago to create a video, but having procrastinated ended up making this video in an hour the day before. Again, this is a jab at how state government appears to have come up with many of their videos and content. Just plain ridiculous satire that’s been effectively used to promote Mike Polk, comedic provocateur.

What to take note of: I was reluctant to use Ultimate Dog Tease as an example because I think it’s ridiculous and the comedy is lost on me, but you can’t ignore 74 million views in such a short period of time. And the fact that I didn’t like this video enough to share it, but that millions of others did (including my dad who I know emailed it to several of his friends) is an important lesson to remember when creating original content. What you, or I, think is mediocre may be the doggy-dub crack to 74 million other people. Alternately, what you think will be the new Rebecca Black video could be a flop and waste away unseen and unknown. Include others in the creative process and don’t just assume your cup of tea is everyone’s favorite as well. The group at Talking Animals took a common question from the hundreds of millions of pet owners, “what is my pet thinking” and applied a bit of comedy and anthropomorphism with masterful dubbing.

What to take note of: The images (as seen below) that accompany the Unhate Film may be a bit more shocking than the film itself, but there is no better example in recent years for shocking content. This campaign seems to force viewers to need to find out more, the best case scenario. When I first saw the image of Obama kissing president Hu Jintao I was surprised and immediately wanted to know the motive behind the picture. The information was easy to find and I was effectively driven to a website and compelled to watch a video. Certainly, the prominence and fame of both presidents lends to the effectiveness, but the kiss does more-so. This is also a good example of the questions you must ask yourself before creating shocking content, you want to push the limits but not break them.

What to take note of: By all accounts, Team Coco rallied a force behind Conan O’Brien that helped to transform the embarrassing dismissal of Conan to a triumphant coup. Mike Mitchell, a devoted fan, started out with a poster that he hoped would start a movement, and it did. This combination of a clever statement and nickname, “I’m with Coco” and embattled community created a highly recognizable image and popular monicker. Mike leveraged his creative abilities by striking while the iron was hot, tagging himself into the ring when Conan seemed all but defeated by the controversial cancellation.

Inspiring and Impressive Content

Inspiring and impressive content play on similar emotions that we all share, a love for the human creature and its capabilities. Although, I’m sure we often forget this love after being flamed by random lurkers on the internet, it’s still there. We love to see the underdog triumph, genuine actions of love or incredible physical feats. They instill in us this idea that maybe deep down I could achieve these accomplishments, that with enough practice I could also free climb half dome (not a chance). Obviously, the key here is to create original content that is truly impressive. Second rate just will not do.

What to take note of: Incredible Speed Boat Catch really is incredible. Even though I would never spend a minute of my life learning to throw a frisbee with accuracy, I respect the difficulty and dedication it must have taken to achieve this. In essence, that’s what we see when we watch these types of videos. We relate the video to ourselves and realize how ridiculous that throw and catch is. It is important to mention that this video received a boost in popularity because of Tosh.0, but that’s proof of the phenomena of wanting to share original content.

What to take note of: If you don’t already know by now (you really should), the Best Air Race Pilot Ever video is a fake. But the ensuing controversy regarding its authenticity caused the video to be shared among friends and become somewhat popular. I’ll be honest, if it had been real I would have shared it too; the idea of a plane losing a wing and the pilot performing a perfect landing is just too impressive and inspiring to ignore. I would caution readers who would attempt to trick viewers, like in this example. Making your audience feel duped and used can taint your company or product. But, what we can learn from this video is that original content with some controversy surrounding it can be fuel to a fire.

What to take note of: Signs does a lovely job of hitting an emotional and inspiring nerve.  The idea of being forever alone is a fear that many people will suffer from during one period or another of their lives. So these stories of success, even as idealized as this one, are inspiring and popular. We like to be reminded that good things happen and maybe even watch in hopes of picking up tips for ourselves. Besides the creative cinematography and witty story, this video is a success because it depicts issues that most people can relate to and offers an ending that everyone wants, happiness.

What to take note of: The creativity of this Mitsubishi ad is what’s impressive and why it was popular. What can we learn from it? Creativity is king. This is a prime example of the type of original content we’ve been discussing in this article. Instead of a commercial of the Montero Sport driving down a treacherous road and telling us what to think, our imagination is allowed to fill in the blanks and create a definition that inevitably has more meaning.

Troll Content

You may not be familiar with the term troll as it refers to the internet, but you’ve most likely experienced a troll in your time. Trolling is an age old pass time where users deliberately post content or make statements that ruffle your feathers. The sole purpose of a troll is to elicit a reaction from you, if for nothing else than a couple of laughs. Comedy at your expense. The internet is riddled with trolls who use the anonymity to trick you and boil your bottom with an absurd comment.

You may be asking yourself, “Why does this matter? I dont want to aggravate and annoy potential costumers.” This type of content is interesting and has potential for popularity, but requires a keen eye to be used effectively so as not to anger your audience (unless this is your goal as seen in one of the examples below). People love to be in on the joke, a sort of feeling that resembles being part of the in crowd, and troll content can play on that. It can be used to make fun of yourself, allowing your audience to be in on the joke at your expense. Whoever the target, your strategy must be well planned. This is no doubt the most difficult type of original content to successfully produce, and can contain elements of both the above categories but the effect is unique. The content is shared because of both the controversy and inside joke it creates.

What to take note of: Don’t be fooled by Chuck Testa, this is a deliberate joke designed by Rhett and Link. This is a fantastic use of trolling, meant not to rile the audience but to cause us to laugh at the expense of Chuck. We’re lead to think this commercial represents some backwoodsy taxidermist’s attempt at marketing. It’s certainly believable, and we’ve seen other similar serious attempts in the past. But that is why this troll is effective and funny. For a brief period, many internet sites were alight with memes that posed a particular question followed by, “NOPE!” This video was successful because Chuck played a good old fashioned joke on himself, and us.

What to take note of: This is one of my favorites even though I don’t like EA (ironically because they have such poor customer service and will sacrifice customers for money without blinking). After the launch of the game Tiger Woods 09, a user posted a satirical video highlighting a bug in the game where Tiger takes a shot while standing on water, nicknamed the Jesus Shot. That original video was somewhat popular amongst that particular gaming community, but caught the attention of EA and prompted the above video. This is the perfect troll scenario; obviously, it is a glitch in the game and wasn’t intended. EA could have patched the bug or even just ignored it entirely. But to call attention to the glitch with an almost arrogant confidence and create a commercial that essentially says, “gotcha bitch” was genius. Despite the bug, the community was ecstatic with having influenced the content of a commercial with Tiger and from being acknowledged by EA. And the story drew enough attention that it was shared with users outside of the golfing and gaming industry, a true success. What can you learn? User feedback can be an invaluable tool, especially with some creativity.

What to take note of: I was hesitant to share Men are Better than Women because it is the type of troll content that can alienate your audience, but this is the quintessential troll. You’re never entirely certain if Dick Masterson believes in what he’s saying or if it’s a joke, and you never will. The truth behind the troll doesn’t matter as much as the controversy that it causes, and to keep the ruckus going you should never know the truth. Unlike shocking content, the only question you want to ask yourself is what social norm can I break that will cause the greatest disturbance? I want to be clear about this type of troll content, you don’t want to use it. I can’t recommend it in good faith; I know how to piss people off and make a scene, but turning that into a positive business building campaign is beyond me. What can you learn from this video? Trolling is a powerful technique and deserves a fair bit of caution.

What to take note of: The pure genius of Trolling Sauruman. Honestly, there’s not much I can say about this video. PistolShrimps made a brilliant discovery, that the Trololo guy’s song matched up with this scene from LOTR. A match made in heaven that was profited from. This could have fit under Humorous content, but I couldn’t disrespect Peter Jackson like that. This scene was obviously meant to be this way, Saruman has been trolololl’n us the whole time and we didn’t know it. BTW, the below video was just too good to pass up posting. This is a near-present-day video of the original trololo guy. What I want to know is if someone ran into him on the streets, recognized him, and harnessed the clear thinking during this chance meeting to ask him to sing for them. Or maybe he recognized his own troll popularity and blessed us with this gem…who knows.

What to take note of: This didn’t become popular outside of Reddit, but is trolling at its finest. The story is, a user took the first image, in the upper left hand corner, of the Vancouver olympics and photoshopped the pedo bear into the image. Next, they uploaded the image with the appropriate tags so that it would readily show up on Google Images. The doctored image was then supposedly used in magazines and newspapers, as seen in the images in the right column. Because the sources are foreign and would be too much trouble for me to physically track down, I’m going to assume the story is true and bestow the appropriate praises on the author of this troll. Although, if it wasn’t true then I’ve been trolled myself and it’s still a good example since it served its purpose. Either way, clever troll is clever.

Conclusion

In every instance of original content there is no substitution for creativity. That’s what makes it original and endows it with the possibility to become a hit. If you’re looking to create your own content or want a firm, like Bright Oak (wink), to create it, you need to know what you want first. Set some parameters for the content, decide if you want it to be funny or inspiring, and set some realistic goals. Like mining for gold, you may not strike it rich on your first attempt so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get millions of views. Likewise, if a design firm promises a campaign with content that sounds too good to be true, they probably can’t deliver (at least not without spending a hefty sum to purchase views). Having realistic expectations and goals will help to prevent you from being hoodwinked. A small campaign based on quality content should be able to garner several hundred thousand views over the first year. No one can tame the unicorn or even ride it for long, all we can do is hope for the best and never be disappointed with Shadowmere instead.

If you’ve read this far you must be avoiding work or something else awful, so here are a handful of silly videos to help pass more time.

Videos for fun:

GI Joe PSA
I like turtles
Wives making terrible coffee
Absence of towels
Rejected Cartoon
Old Gregg!
Crack Fox
Filling in due to murder
Pretty much everywhere it’s gonna be hot
Fishing show bloopers
Step’n on the beach
Incredible salesman
Streaking the quad

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