The Key to Copycatting Virality

It seems like most people on YouTube these days are hungry for one thing, and one thing only: millions of views—and they’ll do anything they can to get their content to “go viral.” Although brands typically focus on KPIs and ROI, some companies appear to be playing the “view game” by copycatting viral hits.

You know it, I know it, we all know it: Dollar Shave Club’s (DSC) first online video killed it! Smooth, sarcastic CEO Michael Dubin delivered a simple message about his razors with f***ing great blades in the best way possible. His wit and blatant honesty resonated with online audiences, and now the DSC video has over 13.5 million YouTube views and 577,000 social shares.

The video was featured in articles across the Web and is still mentioned quite frequently today. However, it boasts a certain novelty that I believe cannot be reproduced. Online video viewers have seen it, loved it, and shared it. They’re now quick to judge and even condemn copycats and their attempts to piggyback on the success of Dollar Shave Club. The video below is probably one of the best imitations; check it out.

Promoting a similar monthly service (for condoms in lieu of razors), The Cocksman Club cast a suave lead to talk his way through the commercial, explaining the service and its perks. One commenter already referenced Dollar Shave Club, but proclaimed that he has a beard, so he prefers this ad. Regardless of whether or not viewers enjoy the actor’s beard, the video has earned only 19,000 views and around 700 social shares.

Compare this with DSC’s 13.5 million YouTube views and 577,000 social shares. Now, I’m not saying that copycatting virality is a bad thing; there are brands that have been successful in doing so, but they have capitalized on viral trends rather than a viral hit. For example, the original “Harlem Shake” (below) spawned thousands of copycats, many of which saw high viewership and engagement. This trend allowed for creativity and variance—people didn’t watch the videos because they expected the exact same thing to happen each time.

Original “Harlem Shake” video: 51.1 million YouTube views

Sure, we know what generally happens in “Harlem Shake” videos, but we watched them anyways just to see how crazy people could get with it. Dozens of companies created their own versions that generated significant viewership:

Maker Studios: 31.7 million YouTube views

Jeff Gordon/Pepsi: 7 million YouTube views

CollegeHumor: 3.8 million YouTube views

The difference between brands copycatting this viral trend and The Cocksman Club’s attempt to copycat DSC, is that with the “Harlem Shake” concept, companies had the chance to put their own unique spin on it. No one complained that they were just copying the original “Harlem Shake” video because everyone was doing it. The Cocksman Club’s video, on the other hand, seems to lack any signs of originality.

Brands have the opportunity to engage online video viewers when they jump on viral trends. People enjoy watching different versions of the “Harlem Shake” video, but may be less inclined to praise videos that duplicate novel ideas. Creativity and innovation are the foundation of successful online video campaigns, even if a brand is copying a viral trend. People shouldn’t have to question your company’s ability to produce original, high-quality content—so make sure that if you do decide to “copycat virality,’ you add your own unique elements and/or point of view.

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