Rant about the the term "viral videos"

I read the terms "virals", "viral ads", "viral videos" everywhere used incorrectly.

The so called viral ads are advertisements that are created with the intention to be distributed through social media channels, such as video sharing sites, blogs, traditional news channels and any other non-payed media. These ads usually feature content that is funny, unusually helpful, amazing, surprising or controversial in nature. The main advantage of such distribution is the low or non-existent media cost. Secondarily, these ads are usually introduced to the consumer by their friends, which makes the context more personal and thus the viewer will be more perceptive to the message.

However these ads most of the time should not be called virals. Going viral means the ad has been distributed by a significantly high number of people through various channels. What constitutes a high number is a subjective matter, but clearly something that got 1000 views on YouTube did not yet go viral. Viral starts at tens of thousands of views or impressions.

Instead of the incorrect term "viral ads" for ads created for the social space, I would like to coin the phrase "social ad", which is more descriptive in my opinion and doesn't depend on how much the ad was distributed.

In the event a social ad gets shared extensively the adjective viral can be added. Proper use would be "social ad that went viral", "viral social ad" or it can be simply shortened to "viral ad".

I would suggest put the minimum number of views or impressions for social ads created for an international audience at 100,000 uniques before it can be called a viral. On a national level depending on the size of the subculture even 10,000 uniques can be enough to qualify.

Let me know what you think!


ScoBo's picture
2 pencils

I agree! This has been a pet peeve of mine for a while as well. Calling it a "viral ad" can give the wrong impression and make people think that just by sticking it online it will end up on the news like all the others. It is a result, not a strategy, and you can't only rely on it to be popular online. You need other elements to help it stick as a bigger campaign. I'm going to use "Social Ad" from now on!

ivan's picture

Thanks for the support ScoBo.

Guest's picture

I think most of the people who coin the term 'going viral' are online marketers, creating some ripples online(creating vids or viral video) when promoting or launching their new product or services.


Guest's picture

A real viral ad spreads on its own merit, and is shared spontaneously by people who don't have a vested interest in it; rather than a calculated marketing blitz that pretends not to be mainstream. A lot of agencies are doing viral ads that are not remotely intriguing and feel forced and fake, as if commissioned by a corporate client, which is the kiss of death as far as viral is concerned.

Guest's picture

Good thought.
In my opinion obviously saying an ad is viral raises expectations exponentially. Secondly the semantic play at Viral is not something desirable either- with viral having negative connotations.

However the criterion is still subjective. What does 100,000 imply and why only 100,000 why not a million? Also it needs to take into account a community too. If you have an ad targeted at Hispanics or Jewish community or Indian Americans, or the indie music community etc - it might travel well in those communities but not outside. In that sense, even if the absolute numbers will be small- the ad (or the content) has still spread on its own- far and deep within the available community.

I have contended about this last year- when I refer to the content that spreads- as a "GermFeed". Something akin to a 'culture' that you put in a milk- to makeit curdle. The end product is this self perpetuating good 'germ' gives rise to yoghurt or the curd.

I wrote about this a year back and the definition includes all content and not what is usually referred to as "Viral"


Shanty Mathew's picture
Shanty Mathew
130 pencils

An ad or marketing idea that goes viral is extremely unique. It could be visual, audio, or audiovisual in nature. It may be proliferated online or offline - or both. It usually covers a huge population like a giant tidal wave. (Rare exceptions, do propagate more imperceptibly over time.) Ads BECOME viral. Ads that claim otherwise are invariably more viral than ad.

A stranger abroad's picture
A stranger abroad
427 pencils

As i explain to clients who want to save on media at least once a month. We don't decide what goes viral, the public does.

You can do what you always do with an ad: shove more in, make it congruent with corporate philosophy and bullet-proof it against internal criticism. But if you want the public to see it, it has to contain something they will want to see.

Shoving a scam ad on youtube doesn't make it viral. 10s or 100s of thousands of the public choosing to forward the link to their friends do. And they won't do it just because we would like them to.

At this point at least some clients realise that 'viral' is not a way of saving on your TV budget.

Guest's picture

*social ad(s) > viral ad(s)

viral ad(s) < social ad(s)

*conditions apply

Guest's picture

Sorry, I agree with you on the viral ad description, more or less, guest (Sun) also has a good point. However, calling something a social ad is dreadful. Social advertising exists in the real world, not in the online world.

ivan's picture

Yes, I'm aware of this term. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_advertising But nobody uses it in this way. People use the terms "NGO" or "public interest". The term "social" for me feels like something shared, like social media.

TacticalMarket's picture
2 pencils

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Guest's picture

I agree & think you make a good point in your article!

Guest's picture

thanks for posting..


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