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  • Lairs Johnston

Going Viral Over 100 Times...On Purpose

Updated: Jun 25

“Is going viral an accident?”


Probably the most frustrating question I’ve ever been asked, and I’ve been asked this A LOT. My career started out in Los Angeles, generating followers for YouTubers and managing their careers. From there I went on to start a few businesses that blew up and collapsed just as fast. Since then, I have managed multiple viral blogs, been a marketing director then CMO, and even made a career of creating and managing viral content.


Everyone has a different definition of viral but in the content world it’s considered receiving one million views in a week. I’ve “gone viral” a few hundred times and each time there’s multiple things I can point to that explain “why” I’ve had such success.


Going viral is pointless if it doesn’t accomplish something. There are many pieces of content that do go viral accidentally with nothing to show for it other than a number that may only impress your grandma.


Going viral, if you’re doing it right, should accomplish something. Whether you’re building up an audience to retarget, build a following, or sell a product/service, it should be doing SOMETHING. Also, a lot of people have downplayed the art of going viral but my defense is that if you’re creating awesome content...shouldn’t it go viral? Shouldn’t you be making memes, blogs, or commercials that are so good and tailored to your demographic that people are moved to share it and tag their friends who share it with more friends, and boom...millions of views because your smart content was so well created?


To break this concept down I’m going to share how I created a piece of content that I simply posted on my personal facebook page, and a week later it had 8 million views on YouTube.


The Best Student Makes the Best Campaigns


At the time it was for an insurance company. The company was just getting started and couldn’t handle a lot of business but we wanted leads (emails in this case) and a positive brand awareness. The word “insurance” is one of the more hated words on the internet and I wanted to build a positive vibe for our company while we were ramping up.


So I studied. Turns out the most profitable demographic for insurance was the married mom in her mid 40s. She was the one writing the checks for the car insurance, house insurance, boat insurance...all the insurance!


In order to know what this particular type of mom wanted, what would make her convert, I had to become the mom.


Researching married moms in their mid 40s is not difficult, however a lot of marketers are out there doing the exact same thing: “Our demo is 40 year old moms, lets advertise to fans of Target!” I had to get creative with my research and decided to explore my demographic’s guilty pleasures; what do these moms enjoy in their freetime, when nobody else is around?


I came up with the following shows: Desperate Housewives and The Bachelor.


I also noticed 3 distinct patterns:

  1. Every episode had a man being vulnerable/emotional.

  2. Almost every episode had a man playing with a kid.

  3. Every episode had a plot twist...HE CHOSE HER OVER HER?!?!?!? HOW COULD SHE TALK TO HIM LIKE THAT???!?!?!? IT WAS THE BUTLER?!?!?!?!?


So I went on and made a commercial that included a man, all nervous and vulnerable, getting ready for a “first date.” When he finished getting ready, he walked out the front door of his house, paused, turned around and walked back to his own door and knocked. Plot twist - his daughter answered the door. That’s right! This ad had everything; a man being vulnerable, a huge plot twist, and he was interacting with a kid (his own kid nonetheless)!


I launched the video campaign from my personal Facebook account and the video brought in 50,000 email addresses for free, directly from our target demographic. It also gained 150 million views on another Facebook page and received over 15 million views on our company YouTube channel, and brought in over $25,000 in YouTube ad revenue just from its popularity. All for absolutely zero ad spend.


It’s the same mentality that I applied to writing for a mom blog (which I’m a very single/very no kids dude), to creating ad content for a biker gang, to creating commercials for a software company.


I’ve been often asked why I don’t write my own album or have my own blog and at the end of the day, it’s simple. I don’t care. I don’t have an opinion but, if you give me an artist or a product and their demographic and their genre, I can create campaigns in minutes. To be successful I have to have the analytics before I can ever be creative. Using analytics and knowing my demographics is how I’ve created videos with a total of over one billion organic views and written blogs that have over 400 million organic views. When you study your target demographic, the creation part is actually pretty straight forward.


The Industry


A lot of people think music is about talent or luck. To me, I see it as one massive marketing machine, from the lyrics to the melodies to the presentation and everything else that happens behind the scenes. A majority of my viral videos have come from the music world and it’s always been from an analytical perspective.


I could talk about this industry for hours but here’s a few examples of what I observed to help go viral, again with the purpose of revenue in mind.


The Original Song


The start and finish of so many cover artists' careers is the release of the first original. If people don’t buy it or watch it you’re basically stuck being ‘that one cover artist’ until the day you die. So no pressure but I had to write something for a girl with an octave range to blow out proper artists with labels backing them.


So again, I went to the demographic, I had to think like a middle school girl. One theme I quickly noticed is that a major motivator for this age is the idea of love. The concept of something deeply emotional in connection. Also, this seemed to be the start of girls feeling invisible but craving attention.


So, in short I wrote a song about a girl wanting to be called beautiful instead of hot and did a video where a girl feels invisible until the big reveal at the end, he likes her too.


The Viral Money Maker


For this video I simply looked at where we gained the most revenue from and where we were the most popular. From a royalties and ad revenue perspective Europe traffic paid out the most. From a popularity perspective a vast majority of one particular artists fans were in spanish speaking countries. So I took the number one song in Europe and we sang part of it in Spanish! The video got 15 million views with a CPM of almost $5, making revenue close to $75,000 for a video we did in a day.


Ride the Wave


One of the ways I’d grow artists channels was by constantly watching songs coming out that had potential to be huge and creating a cover really quickly to appear in the search. So when people went to see that famous person, they’d also see us and watch our video as well. At the time, no one was really doing this let alone utilizing annotations.


When Bruno Mars released Lazy song I saw an opportunity and jumped on it. The song was a simple production and the video was a bunch of male gorillas dancing. Conveniently my artist was planning on doing a girls night and thus a female version of the song commenced. We changed the lyrics enough to make it her own and did a video complete with female gorillas as back-up dancers. Over 75 million views and through annotations we were growing her YouTube following and Facebook following by a combined 50,000 new followers per day, not to mention the ad revenue from all those views was a hefty paycheck.


At the end of the day, no matter if the demographic is middle school girls, middle aged soccer moms or male pastors in their 50’s needing software, viral content and high converting campaigns starts with studying. The psychology of learning how a person operates always changes and that’s the most fascinating part, keeps you on your toes.

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