Yesterday, I helped promote a viral video called “Scarface School Play,” created by Marc Klasfeld, on Break.com, which is the website I co-edit. Without spewing too much invective about how my efforts and the efforts of my coworkers in promoting this video through a variety of social media techniques went unnoticed by the creator in his reveal to Mashable about the video’s origin, I would like to examine why the video is very well-done conceptually and why the poor decision to claim it so quickly after its initial rise in popularity will ensure that few people will remember it next month, if they remember it that long.
Everyone, regardless of age or internet expertise, is hardwired to understand and react to most “viral” videos. We can all watch a video and alternately experience a shot of wonder, a brief high of adrenaline and elation, or feelings of disgust and even hatred. In this case, Mr. Klasfield expertly appealed to the mature viewer’s understanding of the theatrical and ethical absurdity of watching grade-schoolers act out a film universally know for its violence and depravity. It’s a hilariously ironic juxtaposition between the dark themes and content of a gangster movie and the uncomfortable dramatic inadequacy of every school play you have ever witnessed. The teacher slowly helping the reluctantly shy assassin out onto the stage was a perfect visual representation of why the video was funny as a whole.
It’s that immediate shock of absurdity that so many young, schadenfreude-seeking internet experts enjoy, and the same moral disconnect that draws righteous indignation out of more sensitive viewers. The emotions may be different, but their reaction and the web of cultural associations that create them are exactly the same. However, just as that emotional reaction is an innate part of a truly viral video’s success, so too is the viral vid’s tendency to fade quickly from our internet consciousness once we close our internet browsers and our Facebook feeds refresh. The memory of the video and the emotion itself fade before we even realize what we just watched.
Most advertisers, and content providers, still don’t appreciate this fact. It’s this innate quality of powerful yet transient impact of viral videos on the viewer that makes the form so coveted by advertisers. They’re perfectly suited to advertising’s primary aim, which is (to paraphrase part of an essay in Chuck Klosterman’s Eating the Dinosaur) presenting the essence of a striking idea to consumers without really conveying any lasting idea at all past brand recognition. Still, most advertisers don’t understand that subtlety and a clearer understanding of the exact emotion they’d like to imbue in their users should always trump branding in a truly viral video. Branding still tips the scales and takes away from the emotional content that would make a video truly effective from an advertising perspective.
Mr. Klasfield perfectly understood how to create the emotional reaction embodied by the phrase, “Whoa, was that real?!” Unfortunately, he and his partner still didn’t understand that allowing that feeling to gestate past a day, or even a week, is what makes a video truly memorable. When the truth about a video appears on the internet, the purity of the video’s emotion is diluted, drastically reducing the half-life of its inital effect: “Was That Real?!” suddenly becomes “Ah, Yeah, I’ve Seen That”. As for this video’s emotional impact, in the words of Mr. Montana himself, you can now say goodnight to the bad guy.