4 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

The Imperfect [Viral] Crime

We might say that viral marketers try to make their Trojans out of the same kind of stuff we experience when glimpsing strange cloud formations.

man-cloud

To be sure, the marketer must endeavor to be the trickster insofar as he tries to sustain the hallucination long enough to fleece those idiots still caught out staring into the sky. This is nevertheless the “imperfect crime” of viral marketing Fuller and Goffey discuss so well in their Evil Media chapter in The Spam Book: as they put it, the problem with viral marketing is that “the identity of the criminal needs to be circulated along with the act itself.”

So what makes something go viral? Well, isn’t this the elixir of marketing and political strategizing? It’s certainly not something that can be easily grasped. Aside from engaging with the imperfect criminal act, the viral marketer must also take into account the accidental environments in which phantoms exist. See, for example, the work of network market researchers like Duncan Watts who point to the accidents of influence. As Fuller and Goffey argue, as soon as the viral is pushed “into the [uncertain] realm of experiential communication [and] material affect,” the marketer can no longer rely on an encoded message to ensure the virus’s trajectory (p. 155). There are no assurances that things will go viral. The cloud might eventually become dispersed or get heavier and fall from the sky.

Forget the meme theory of viral marketing. It is in these uncertain realms of communication that the accidents of virality seem to persist irrelevant of how much memetic seeding takes place. Importantly then, the creativity of the idiot does not belong to the idiot-subject or the idiot maker, it would seem. The idiot is not simply created; he also creates himself and those idiots around him. Marketers have to bide their time, keep their distance, and wait for their phantom event to spread out. Nevertheless, with enough added idiocy, the attention of the collective hallucination will eventually be drawn to this or that point of distraction and the virus might just catch on.

References

Jon Ronson’s viral video: Thank God it’s Tuesday http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/video/2012/may/18/jon-ronson-viral-video-tuesday

Olga Goriunova, 2010 ‘Digital Media Idiocy’, Thinking Network Politics conference, Anglia Research Centre in Digital Culture,Anglia Ruskin University.

Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd, 16.

Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (London: Continuum, 1990), 241–57.

Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey, “Towards an Evil Media Studies,” in Parikka and Sampson, The Spam Book, 155.

Clive Thompson, “Is the Tipping Point Toast?” Fast Company Magazine, February 1, 2008, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/122/is-the-tippingpoint-toast.html

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About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. A former musician, he studied computer technology and cultural theory before receiving a PhD in sociology from the University of Essex. His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) and Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, due 2018). He is organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK, a co-founder of Club Critical Theory and Director of the EmotionUX Lab at UEL. He occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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2 Responses to 4 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

  1. nomicstudios says:

    So does this mean that a meme or video or image or or or that goes viral is, by definition, a specter? Unmoored and unmoorable? If its a game (my area), this implies that the actual purchase, or playability of the game is untethered from the the viral. Yes?

  2. Virality says:

    Yes, I like this notion of the unmoored and unmoorable. What seems to be set a drift here is the relation between the real and imaginary. From a distance it is after all the clouds and the branches that take on a difference. Something floats away, as such. I wonder however if this translates to the viral becoming detached from the play? That’s interesting. It would need more thought. I think Tarde’s idea of an action at a distance could come in useful. That is some kind of force of encounter where singularities come into relation with each other. Not as a unity, but a topological relation. I wonder then is it this relation that is unmoorable rather than what is being related?

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