Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How to create a viral video

Ever wonder what it takes to create a viral video? As someone who started out in college as a physics major, it is gratifying to see people like Stephen Voltz, Fritz Grob and Walter Lewin become famous, at least on the Internet. These people might not be household names like the Spears clan, but at least they are doing things that I can be proud of.

Voltz and Grob are the guys behind, the people that combine Mentos with Diet Coke to create geysers of exploding soda and some very entertaining videos. Their videos have been downloaded millions of times and enjoyed by people all over the globe.

Paul Gillin and I got the chance to chat with them this week on our podcast series. (For those of you that haven't yet subscribed, each week we talk about new media topics that would be of interest to public relations and marketing professionals, as well as interview leading luminaries and interesting people.)

What is fascinating is how quickly the duo became famous: within a week of uploading their first video, they were booked on all the major talk shows (and this is back when these shows had writers so the competition for guests was tough). Voltz and Grob talked about having excellent video production values isn't quite right for their audience: like so many things on the Internet, Just Good Enough Production is really what counts, and getting across a Just Plain Folks sensibility is really the best path towards more click-throughs. Plus, seeing all that spraying soda helps, too.

You can download the podcast here and hear directly from them about why they do what they do.

Contrary to popular belief, the duo has had plenty of support from the marketing arms of both Mentos and Coca-Cola companies. As you might imagine, they consume a lot of product for their backyard experiments, and they told us that a lot of planning and testing goes into setting up the final shots that you see online – sometimes these three minute videos take months of preparation. They now devote themselves full-time to their experiments, and have gone on the speaking circuit and done them live at various cities, soaking volunteers with soda geysers.

Lewin is an MIT physics professor who is also a download king, but his videos are educational rather than pure entertainment. His videos are the actual lectures that he gives his undergraduates, and are part of the MIT Open Courseware project. MIT has put 1800 of its courses online over the past several years, and now has some of them available in ten different languages including Thai, Chinese and Spanish. If you need to brush up on your intro to physics, you can start with this link here.

It is nice to see all three guys become notorious, and I mean that in only good terms.

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About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.