One of the top viral videos (so far) this year is from an Atlanta Furkids pet shelter that looks like it was shot with a budget of roughly 75 cents.
This modest video with zero celebrities but lots of cats managed to rack up 4.8 million views and counting on YouTube and hit the front page of Reddit. If you haven’t seen it, the ad features a would-be huckster (Atlanta native Paul Preston) playing the role of a used car salesman. But instead of cars, he’s selling cats. (“You like sleepy kitties? We got the sleepiest kitties you’ve ever seen!”) The ad is one of only a handful of local spots to go viral.
While it’s tempting to write off Furkids as a fluke, a closer look at the video illustrates why it caught on. Brands hoping to get traction with their videos might want to, uh, adopt these lessons as well.
1. The shots are short. While this is clearly a very cheap video, someone behind the camera had some sense of visual flow. Note that none of the shots go longer than eight seconds or so and most are considerably shorter. Such quick edits prevent the video from losing momentum within its 2:57 running time.
2. There’s non-stop music. Another element that keeps your attention is that there’s constant music on the soundtrack. Most of it is guitar noodling that leads up to a silly version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of an Angel,” which is milked for maximum pathos in this famous British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ad.
3. The animals aren’t the focal point. Well, not really. The star of the video is Preston. Usually, ads in this category either try to tug at the heartstrings with images of pathetic pets (the BSPCA approach) or employ a celebrity (ditto). Preston isn’t a trained actor or comic and it shows — in a good way. He’s funny without appearing practiced, which makes him relatable.
4. It seemed designed to appeal to Reddit users. Reddit’s home page is incredibly influential. Editors at BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post constantly check it to look for posts that are going viral. As marketers know, though, redditors hate any form of marketing. That’s why rather than try to appeal to them directly, it’s better to appeal to their passions, which include cute animals. While there’s no guarantee that a redditor will pick up your video, creating a video designed to appeal to this cynical audience can’t hurt, especially since Reddit is such an effective barometer for what will go viral.
5. The emotional appeal isn’t sappy. A slick ad like Budweiser’s Puppy Love, which ran in the 2014 Super Bowl, is very hard to pull off unless you have access to A-list commercial talent. If you don’t, though, observe how the silly premise of Furkids (a shelter as a big-box retail store and kitties as products) underscores its serious message (these cats need a home.)
6. It’s shareable. Furkids zoomed to nearly 5 million views because it’s the type of video you don’t mind sharing. It’s genuinely funny, unique and conveys a human truth. Social media guru Jeff Bullas has claimed that there are five reasons people share content on social media: (1) To bring valuable and entertaining content to others. (2) To define ourselves to others. (3) To grow and nourish our relationships. (4) Self-fulfillment. (5) To get the word out about causes and brands. This video definitely hit points 1,2 and 5.
Odds are, the people who made this video weren’t working off a checklist of items that go into making a viral video. Instead, they merely tried to create something fun and creative. As the response shows, a lot of people appreciated the effort. The fact that it came from a small animal shelter only added to its appeal. We all love to champion the underdog — or cat.