Saturday, August 29, 2009

short attention span theater

a while back, i blogged about my obsession with dave carroll and united breaks guitars. to date, the original video has racked up more than 5 million views inside of a month. it's really pretty amazing. even dave didn't expect nearly that much attention, having set a goal of a million views over the course of the year. the more interesting thing is that this vid drew nearly 2 million views in about 5 days, no doubt propelled by mainstream media coverage on CNN and other broadcast and print outlets.

in the accompanying story on his site, dave talks about how he promised united he was going to make a series of 3 videos about this incident. i thought that was the wrong approach when i read about it, and now that i've seen "song 2," (check out the second window in the right hand column) i'm even more convinced.

as rajesh setty points out in his excellent post on what makes viral videos take off, "second acts are not easy....if the followup isn't 10x better than the original, it won't fly."

he's right, of course. but that's not why dave's second vid isn't pulling eyeballs (so far, only about 250,000 views in its first week). the song 2 vid is, in a certain way, better. it's got more action, more people, an equally hooky tune. what it doesn't have, though -- and rajesh leaves this element out of his list -- is what i'd call "audience care-about." all those people who hate united for its poor service (disclosure: i'm in that group) spent their care-about capital on the first vid, so now there's really nothing left for the follow-up.

this was not true, say, for "where the hell is matt #2," the viral sensation that actually pulled more viewers than the first video which showed matt dancing all by himself. our care-about capital in the first instance is invested in the idea that this crazy soul has traveled all over the world and danced in some pretty interesting places; in the follow-up, we're even more taken with the idea that he can, and does, get everyone from aboriginal people to young children to nursing home residents to join him in the dance.

(there's something about dancing, as well, that grabs peoples' attention. you have to look no further than the assortment of reality shows on network tv to see proof of that. perhaps it's because most of us can't do it? even the vids of people dancing in train stations, etc. are highly viewed, i think, because they're about dancing, not about interrupting public life).

seth godin's comments on the nature of viral are also pretty interesting, but even they don't really address this idea of "short attention span theater," which i think characterizes how most people deal with most things. we have long, sustained attention for the few things we love that hold us relentlessly in their grasp -- our kids, our pets, our gardens, our favorite tom clancy novel. oh, and sometimes our spouses, especially when they're pissed off about something.

but for pretty much everything else, we have only small, fragmented bits of attention, and most of these are divested on the things that wish they had (and claim to deserve) our long, sustained attention -- say, our bosses, our colleagues, our friends and family whom we say we'll call but rarely do, our gardens, our cars, the laundry that's been piled up for weeks now.

so how're we to make time for viral video or ideas? i think to succeed, such material has to be a combination of what rajesh and seth posit -- compelling and interesting, easy to send and worthwhile to share, etc. -- plus something else: the ability to sneak in the short attention span theatre by being something we truly care about and are willing to entertain.

what's your favorite viral vid, and why? how many people did you pass it along to? when people send you links to viral vids, what determines whether or not you watch them and pass them along?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My personal favorite lately that yes, I who rarely forward, have passed on. I have to be "caught" in about 10 seconds to keep watching these videos...not quite ready to commit 3 to 5 minutes "waiting" for the punch or something. Someone sent me one today that was 6 or 7 minutes. I watched for a minute, made a phone call and kept watching, made another phone call, kept watching, finished it, wondered why I hadn't just shut it off and still never figured out why this person thought it was so hilarious.

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