The main theme of my book How to Fail...  is that goals are for losers. What you need instead is a system. For example, losing ten pounds is a goal, whereas learning about nutrition and diet so you can gradually replace willpower with knowledge is a system. (That makes more sense with a full explanation.)

Upworthy.com, which has experienced explosive traffic growth, has a great example of a system for making content go viral. Business Insider has a fascinating presentation on it. Upworthy concocts 25 headlines for each bit of content, just to increase the odds of stumbling on a few good ones. Then they do A-B testing on the favorites. Their experience is that no one knows in advance what will go viral, so the best you can do is a system that improves your odds. These guys are experts in creating viral links and yet only 6% of their links generate 100K views.

Upworthy creates only the intriguing link descriptions and not the content itself. When looking for good content that has viral potential, they say they look for these qualities.

Hero or villain

Emotion (raw, human, honest)

High production values

Surprising information

Say what others are thinking

Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually)

Inspire curiosity

Mom-friendly (to get maximum Facebook shares)

Compare Upworthy's viral checklist to Jonah Berger's checklist in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Berger says that the stuff that catches on has the following qualities.

Social Currency: How does it make us look to others?

Triggers: Does the environment remind people?

Emotion: Do we care?

Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product?

Practical Value: Is it useful?

Stories:  Does it fit stories that are already in the air?

Combining Upworthy's checklist with Berger's list, and getting rid of duplicates, we have this hybrid checklist.

Hero or villain
Emotion (raw, human, honest)
High production values
Surprising information
Say what others are thinking
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually)
Inspire curiosity
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others?
Triggers: Does the environment remind people?
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product?
Practical Value: Is it useful?
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway?

That's a lot of stuff to get right. So let's test the list against my experience with Dilbert. As we know with the benefit of hindsight, Dilbert is hugely viral. So how does it do against the checklist?

Hero or villain (YES - bosses are villains)
Emotion (raw, human, honest)  (YES)
High production values (NO, but good enough)
Surprising information (NO)
Say what others are thinking (YES)
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually) (NOT APPLICABLE)
Inspire curiosity (YES - comics scream "read me.")
Mom-friendly (YES)
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others? (YES -humor is attractive)
Triggers: Does the environment remind people? (YES - workplace)
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product? (YES - on cubicle walls)
Practical Value: Is it useful? (YES - humor entertains, informs, and relieves stress)
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway? (YES)

Dilbert hit all of the viral points except for "surprising information" and high production values. But in my case, the poor artwork actually helped, I think, in the sense that it signaled I was more of a cubicle victim myself than an artist. And that became a big part of the story.

Now let's look at my recent attempt at a viral video that attracted only 15K clicks as of this writing. I'll provide a link to it below, but don't look yet. I'm going to tweak the teaser to it below and see if it makes you click.

Here's how my not-so-viral video stacks up on the checklist.

Hero or villain (NO - except in a joke way)
Emotion (raw, human, honest)  (NO)
High production values (YES)
Surprising information (YES, for some - the Wacom Companion product)
Say what others are thinking (NO)
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually) (NO)
Inspire curiosity (NO - and the teasers to it were not A-B tested)
Mom-friendly (NO - some bleeped cursing and a hot tub scene)
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others? (NO - neutral)
Triggers: Does the environment remind people? (YES -graphic art is everywhere)
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product? (NO - not usually)
Practical Value: Is it useful? (YES - for artists who want freedom from desks.)
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway? (NO)

When I was developing the script for the video, my angle was that almost everyone knows someone who is a graphic artist, or wants to be one. And the technology shown in the video - the Wacom Companion - is a very big deal for graphic artists. It's the first time in my career I can effectively do work on an airplane, for example. So I thought (incorrectly) that anyone who knew a graphic artist would helpfully forward the link with news of this breakthrough device.

I learned after the fact that non-artists are completely unimpressed with the new technology because they don't see how big a deal it is to people who draw for a living. Few people realized the information would be especially helpful to their artist friends.

So I failed hard at making the video viral. But in the process of failing, I picked up a half-dozen new and probably useful skills.

For starters, I learned a whole lot about what to do right next time if I want something to be viral. I could have simply read about how to make things viral, but trying and failing is a much richer and more memorable experience. The doing makes the learning real. So my odds of making something viral in the future just went way up.

Failure is part of my system, by the way, as I describe in How to Fail...  I choose projects that will teach me something useful and increase my market potential no matter what happens. So while my video did not go viral, I now have a fairly deep understanding of what went wrong. And that will almost certainly be useful for future projects.

I also picked up some insights about writing for the camera. I plan to write a Dilbert movie script in 2014, so most of that is useful. So I failed forward, as my career system is designed to do.

Now let's do a little test to see if I can "fix" my video clip and make it viral by paying attention to the checklist. I need to change the focus from "look at this technology" to something that inspires curiosity and has an emotional charge.

So here's my new teaser. What you don't know is that the video was shot entirely at my house, which I built a few years ago. The house has one room in particular that perhaps no other house in the world has. See if you can spot it. And remember, every interior scene shown is an actual room of my house.

My new teaser headline for the link is this: Dilbert cartoonist has a VERY unusual room in his house.

You can track the hit count on the page with the video.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +12
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Jan 6, 2014
What is wrong with this? Where to start... If it's an advert for the iPad (it IS an advert for the iPad, right? That's what it looks like...), it fails because the product isn't even on the screen for something like 70% of the running time. And it doesn't include the name of the product, any indication of who makes it, why I or anyone else might want one, or which model of iPad it actually IS.

And oh, god, the running time. Who on this good earth thought for a second that something that runs over THREE MINUTES would go viral? Daily internet use over the last fifteen years has given my attention span such a battering I get bored and click away halfway through some Vines.
If it was supposed to make me want to buy the book written by the smug charisma vacuum with the jacuzzi full of hookers, again, it makes me actively want to avoid giving that guy any more money. I might torrent the ebook, just on general principle, even if I never read it.
On the plus side, turns out the Pearls Before Swine guy seems OK. I look at him and think "Gee, Tony Stark let himself go a bit."
Jan 6, 2014
My fav youtube video is the streaker running into the glass wall around a tennis court.
You could re-stage that in your add
Jan 6, 2014
You mean your Christmas tree storage closet in the background at the end of the video?
Jan 6, 2014
Most people here are right about the video. Too many things wrong with the premise (and the execution) to make it go viral.

But I've also been duped by Upworthy into watching boring videos. These guys are just great at generating titles. upworthygenerator.com captures this well. So here's my (lousy) attempt at generating a better headline for the video:

"Think you know how to be funny? Maybe you should watch this cartoonist crank out comics in two minutes each.

Seriously. Incredible."

I.e. forget about making the video go viral. Just make the headline go viral.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 5, 2014
It's adorable that you think changing the title of the link will make this video go viral.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 5, 2014
Unless you re-edited the video, this sort of makes it worse. You got a click-bait title now, sure, but a title that bears no relation to the theme of the video really, and the content of the video is just a big advert anyway. (I already extolled what was wrong on the last video post, and reached like double figure up votes, so I obviously now know more about how to do this than the multi-millionaire businessman).

As an aside, I have no interest in art or design, but knew about Wacom products by being an ardent reader of Penny Arcade (an online comic you may or may not have heard of). Despite being equally big fans of both your and their work, I would be much more likely to pass on their recommendation, because it was (or seemed to be) an honest artist's evaluation of the product, not an advert.
Jan 3, 2014
I quite enjoyed watching the video but wouldn't share it. I very rarely do share things though. I almost watched it when you first posted it simply because I am interested in seeing your house - only because of what you have posted previously about the thought you put into designing it. The fact all those places are actually in your house is interesting. The message of the video didn't make a lot of sense to me as I couldn't really understand why it took so much longer to draw on paper - perhaps showing the features that make it faster would have helped. And it's not like paper isn't portable. One thing about the video did irk me and that was the shot of you in the hot tub with two women. Given you pointed out it was filmed at your house and readers of your blog know you live there with your family I found that unnecessary and pandering to the obvious use of sex to sell, which was disappointing. Thanks for the interesting post though. Is your blog the only launch pad for trying to make the video go viral?
Jan 3, 2014
Indoor tennis court. That has to be it.
Jan 3, 2014
After reading the other comments, I wanted to say that I like the video. I just don't see an unusual room.

[You see the room but assume it isn't a room in my house. -- Scott]
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 3, 2014
Sorry Scott, the Wacom skit/ad just wasn't that funny. The acting was too cheesy, and not in a good way. The bit also went on way too long for a one-note joke.

Have you seen the "Total Eclipse of the Heart" literal video? Someone redubbed lyrics and music describing the video over the original. It's many years old, yet still funny, because it's over the top in just the right way. Of course the video being from the cheesy, over the top 1980s helps.

Your particular humor is a bit droll/dry, which doesn't really lend itself to viral video, as previously demonstrated by the failure of the poorly done sitcom adaptation of "$@! My Dad Says."
Jan 2, 2014
Let's see:

A gym
Massage room
Home theater room with nice seating

I'm going to have to go with Kitchen.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 2, 2014

I notice you drawing the PHB in the commercial. Do you draw every character in each frame of each comic or do you copy and paste? It's fun to think that you hand- (albeit digitally) draw everything, but it seems like a waste of time.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 2, 2014
For a commercial to go viral, it must be incredibly laugh-out-loud funny - and often too racy for TV.

I know this latter point conflicts with your "mom-friendly" criterion, but making an advertisement viral is more challenging than just being cute.
Jan 2, 2014
I think you've learned some valuable things about why your ad could not go viral, even in the right conditions. But at the same time I think you may be a little over-optimistic about success in the future.

The lists are descriptive, rather than prescriptive elements of viral media. It would be more accurate to say that media lacking those elements are unlikely to go viral under any c i r c u m s t a n c e. But media containing those elements is also unlikely to go viral under most c i r c u m s t a n c e s.

What I mean is that viral media, like a biological virus, has to have certain characteristics to survive at all, but it also requires a ripe environment to flourish and spread. The content creator can only control one of those things.
Jan 2, 2014
Anyone who watches that in the hopes of seeing a "VERY unusual room" will be disappointed, and so will not share it.

If you're still interested in joining the ranks of those trying to figure out how to force a video to go viral, you should probably start over. Commercials very, very rarely go viral. Being a commercial is one of the biggest items in the not-viral checklist.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 2, 2014
I knew about that *** bathroom but did not spot it amongst a ton of other stuff.
And didn't bother to watch it again.
Video is just too long and overloaded.
Sorry for a comment just as boring as the video.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 2, 2014
You are missing a major point in your viral checklists. This is essentially a commercial for Wacom. You have to work significantly harder to make that go viral. Think about the scene from "A Christmas Story" where Ralphie gets his decoder pin and finds out the message is "Drink your Ovaltine". "A crummy commercial?!" Your video has to overcome that reaction before it can even begin to go viral. While you are probably correct in assuming everyone knows some sort of artist. The problem is that artists are notoriously broke and further are also very attached to their chosen medium. It costs $1300 (per the Wacom site) for the smallest companion, which is a pretty steep price to try out something new. In order for this to go viral I think the cost would have to be a quarter the retail price shown. In other words, "This is both revolutionary and too cheap not to try, you have got to see this!".
Jan 2, 2014
Scott, we gotta get you better sponsors. League of Angels? Male moist robots need better programming.
Jan 2, 2014
I see an office, kitchen, hot tub, hallway, foyer, home theater, a room with tile walls, some pretty women, bed with cat, a large open kitchen/dining/hallway/entry way. The only thing unusual that I see is a room overlooking a basketball court/tennis court combo with pads on the wall.

Maybe I am missing something. Nothing that belongs on reddit.com/r/wtf.
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