Friday, 16 April 2010

The Truth About Internet Virals

 truth hurts, doesn't it?

A few short years ago, a small digital agency called Webchutney stunned (and entertained) India with a series of short, animated viral videos.

And in doing so, they screwed us all.

When we watched Pankaj Udaas, Thakur Ka Inteqam, Dilwale Dulhaniya Kaise Le Jaayenge, etc., we all wanted to do the same sort of stuff.

Webchutney had made us all – advertisers and agencies – believe that:

  1. Viral means viral film.
  2. Viral film means animated viral film.
  3. Animated viral film means Bollywood spoof – Sholay, DDLJ, Ghajini, what have you.

Dreams were coming true all around. Copywriters got TVC scripts that were rejected for being too insane animated and turned them into spoofy virals. Clients were happy to shell out Rs. 500,000 for a viral that would run forever (complementing a Rs. 5,000,000 TVC that would run for a month).

But then every viral started to look the same.

ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. Reliance. ADAG. OK Tata Bye Bye. The list was endless.

Naturally, effectiveness began to drop. I’ve stopped forwarding most of these animated virals. As have many friends and colleagues.

They’re simply not cool any more.

But clients don’t get it. And agencies are at fault for continuing to propagate a dying fad.

Clients today believe virals should be cheap and spoofy. So when we develop ideas that require great production, and therefore cost more, it’s a really tough sell.

When clients ask for virals, they mean films. Whereas the true meaning of a viral is something that is passed along from user to user. It could be an engagement idea. A micro-site. An e-mailer. A joke.

Somewhere I feel we’ve failed to realise the potential of Internet virals. As we continued to churn out clone after clone, we were just left behind.

Western agencies realise the true nature of Internet virals. They don’t treat them as callously as we do. Even when they’re thinking of viral films, they think of ideas for great films – not ideas for animated movie spoofs. They produce them beautifully. They seed them actively. They realise and tap into the human desire to share something memorable.

Here are some of 2009’s top virals, as collated by Mashable.

To reinforce the facts, here’s how our virals fare against those listed above:

Viral Date Posted Hits (as of 15th April 2010)
Pankaj Udaas 30th August 2008 15,964
Thakur Ka Inteqam 14th August 2007 462,335
Dilwale Dulhaniya Kaise Le Jaayenge? 21st May 2008 4,389
ICICI Prudential 10th October 2008 2,410
Reliance Sawaal 13th May 2008 3,032
ADAG 31st January 2008 118,559
OK Tata Bye Bye 24th January 2009 14,088
Inspired Bicycles 19th April 2009 16,801,063
Schweppes – Signs 29th January 2009 4,391,312
Boone Oakley 28th May 2009 912,524
VW Piano Stairs 7th October 2009 11,661,969
Samsung Omnia HD 7th April 2009 1,242,421
MSI Computers 10th August 2009 2,936,493

Numbers don’t lie. Even when you take into account Internet penetration, the difference in proportions (and the time taken to go viral) is staggering.

Webchutney moved on long ago. It’s time the rest of us – clients and agencies – follow suit.


  1. samit, i am from webchutney. quick reaction to your spot on (for the most part) post!
    though i dont fully agree that internet users have had enough, most continue to be suckers for stuff like this even now. but we (webchutney) couldnt agree more about moving on from the "animated virals". some lazy creative guys (some we house as well!) have been flogging this "david dhawan formula" forever which surely stunts creative imagination. trust me, all of us at webchutney hate the formula we created, today.

    now for the sales pitch - yes, webchutney is striving hard to do raise the bar, reinvent our thinking on what we define contagious, some of our thinking has begun to reflect that, and inshahallah some this year will continue too.

    one more thing, your numbers on our viral videos arent really reflecting the correct ones, guess you have used youtube as reference. they were originally not hosted there. i understand thats not the point you were making anyway! but cant help correct :-)

    its always a pleasure to read a post with a worthy opinion! all the best!

  2. hi sidharth,

    thanks for reading and commenting. i've always admired the work you guys do at webchutney, and it's a pleasant surprise to hear from you.

    i'm glad that you've joined the movement against animated'll make life much better for all of us digital creative folk.

    about the numbers - i stand corrected.

    do keep reading and commenting. appreciate any feedback/discussion.



  3. Pretty good post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  4. @LayoutSeed: Thanks for the comment and the subscription. It's always nice to get praised. I have a couple of interesting (to me, at least) posts in the pipeline, and I'll be uploading them very soon. Keep reading!