If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many is a video worth? And how many more is it worth if it arrives in your inbox from your best friend?
Some months ago I received one such video, accompanied by this note from a good friend of mine: "You just have to watch this one. It's from your home town!" I watched and was so surprised by what I saw that I immediately forwarded it to two other friends.
Titled "Dynamite Surfing," the apparently homegrown video features seven masked teens and a lake in the center of Copenhagen.
While one guy jumps into the small lake with a surfboard, the rest of the gang race for cover and one of the cohort makes for the bridge that spans the lake. As the surfer reaches the lake's center, the guy on the bridge lobs a lit cartoonesque bundle of dynamite into the lake. The subsurface explosion generates a massive wave in the peaceful lake, generally home to flocks of placid ducks. The surfer paddles ahead of the wave, catches it, and proves that you can go surfing in Copenhagen's city center. The scene is dramatic and very convincing, no matter how unlikely you know it to be.
But as transparent as it all seems to be, the truth behind the scene may surprise you. Contrary to appearances, this is not the work of a gang of like-minded friends with a cool idea and a hand-held camera.
"Dynamite Surfing" is the carefully crafted creation of a large, professional film crew. Weeks of preparation preceded the 60-second Quiksilver stunt, directed by one of the world's largest advertising agencies.
And, it turns out, I hadn't been sent the link by accident. An expert in spreading word-of-mouth branding on the Internet kick-started global interest by handpicking one thousand opinion leaders to send the link to. This ensured that I, and the other base group of recipients, would receive the ad unhindered by spam filters.
But just because the production was professional doesn't mean the creation, the message, and its delivery weren't authentic. No hi-tech cameras or lights, flashy backdrops, or highly paid models were used in the creation of this viral ad. Its authenticity and mystery propelled the viral to instant fame—12 million downloads the first three months—and even inspired headlines pleading for legislation against such outrages as youths being allowed to run about with explosives, vandalizing ornamental lakes, and shattering public peace.
Yes, the creation was very convincing.
So here it is: the new world of advertising. A discipline in which the professional is ostensibly replaced by the amateur; where the established media buyer is replaced with the consumer; and where provocation, like shock, surprise, and hilarity, are essential ingredients for capturing the attention of consumers who have an insouciant disinterest in the amount of money spent on an ad, but an active predilection for sensation.
As YouTube, Google and MySpace announce that video advertising will become a key driver in their future revenue strategies, the glitzy, perfect, anonymous ads we have been used to for years will have to change course. After all, we don't really watch these ads unless we're forced to. Ads need to be intriguing in some way; they need to urge us to watch them.
To achieve this, ads need to make an impact, leaving an impression in which the brand message is embedded. These creations required sophisticated thinking, a thorough knowledge of your consumers, and a sound appreciation of the culture that surrounds your product in the community.
Viral advertising will put your team to the test, its ultimate proof of success being that your creation is so fascinating that millions of people can't help but share the experience of it with their friends.
Would your current brand communication pass this test? Would it be able to run by itself, or does it need that million-dollar budget to fuel interest? If the latter sounds more like you, you'd better regroup, fast.
The brand-building turnaround is well on its way; and while Rome—or, rather, cyberspace—wasn't built in a day, once it stood it prospered for a thousand years.
Click here to watch Quiksilver's "Dynamite Surfing" and to check out my interview with Jimmy Maymann, CEO and founder of GoViral, the team behind the ad.