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What’s Viral This Second, and Why


It may be hard to predict what will go viral, but one way to gauge what might have some success with young online audiences is to look at content that has set the web on fire in the past, and try to understand exactly what the appeal was. Playing copycat is not the goal, but if the core of the allure can be replicated, you might have a better chance of hitting it big. Here are some of the things that are going viral as you read this post, and why they might be capturing clicks. 


1. Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise

This marketing video for the upcoming Carrie remake takes place in a simple coffee shop, has a fairly innocuous name, and reveals that it’s a prank right off the bat—and it has gotten over 17 million views since being posted on YouTube Monday. (Yes, that’s just two days ago Monday.) The clip shows the entire set up of the hoax, including the actors involved rehearsing and high-fiving, at its start before showing the reactions of the bystanders in the coffee shop as they witness an angry girl throw a grown man up against the wall through “telekinisis” (a la Carrie, of course).
The Appeal: ”Prankvertising” 
Whether due to their exposure to Punk’d during their formative years, or (more likely) because they crave moments of surprise and unexpected excitement, Millennials have a real love for a good old-fashioned prank—or, as the bar continues to be raised, a perfectly executed, high-stakes, special-effects-laden stunt. Entertainers have been taking advantage of this prank-appeal for some time: Jimmy Kimmel regularly racks up views and buzz by encouraging his audience to prank their loved ones in his YouTube challenges, or, in the case of his recent “Twerk Fail” prank, pulling one over on pretty much all of America. It was only a matter of time before pranking made its way into marketing. The “Extremely Scary Ghost Elevator Prank” video from Brazil last November currently has over 75 million views, and the Carrie viral is following in its footsteps stateside. While the appeal of the prank lies partly in the moment of surprise it provides and watching the perfectly horrified reactions of the participants, the real viral success of this particular video might be due to the fact that it lets viewers in behind the scenes, making them feel they are in on the scam. “Coffee Shop Surprise” proves that transparent prank content that gives them that “insider” feeling can be even more captivating to viewers than content that tries to fool them into thinking it’s real. 


2. #StarbucksDrakeHands

According to Gawker, last Tuesday an LA model named Piper gave her number (reluctantly) to a “very insistent” Starbucks Barista named Brody. Soon after, Brody sent Piper a 15-second video selfie, a flirtatious missive in which he smiles at the camera as a Drake song plays in the background and then coyly (and somewhat inexplicably) touches his face. Piper posted the vid-selfie to her Instagram, and by yesterday afternoon “Starbucks Drake Hands” had become a big enough viral to make it onto Know Your Meme. Instagram users began to create their own versions of Brody’s video, touching their faces with that same Drake song in the background, and posting to the site with the hashtag #StarbucksDrakeHands. Soon the hashtag inspired its own Instagram and Twitter. Poor Brody probably didn’t know what he was starting when he sent it, but his moving selfie spawned a movement.
The Appeal: The Sharable Cringe-worthy Moment
It is so like Millennials to turn a cringe-worthy moment into a participatory exercise in comedy and creativity. They do it again and again. It is almost as though they are waiting for the next snippet of digital fodder to come their way so they can laugh, join in, browse other participants’ reenactments, and laugh again. The more outrageous the reenactments of the original selfie the better—one starring a unicorn and another featuring a game grandma are favorites. That participatory creativity is half of the appeal of this particular meme. The other half is perhaps less innocent—clearly Brody is the butt of the joke of #StarbucksDrakeHands. There is certainly an element of what some might call group-bullying at work here, and we suspect that Brody is being targeted because his video selfie is an amped up version of a behavior (selfies) that many already find annoying. While many Millennials are guilty of a self-indulgent selfie or two (or two hundred) #StarbucksDrakeHands lets them actively display a little of that anti-selfie mentality.



3. Jimmy Fallon, Miley Cyrus & The Roots Sing “We Can’t Stop”

We can’t stop watching this “We Can’t Stop” cover, an acapella version of the chart-topper starring Miley, The Roots, and Jimmy Fallon. While it isn’t massively viral just yet (it currently has just over 700,000 views) The vid has all the elements in place to blow up big: Fallon is becoming known for producing awesome and appealing pared down versions of major hits, there is a hint of nostalgia thanks to The Brady Bunch setup, and maybe most importantly, it features Miley Cyrus front and center (literally) and right now everything she does seems to make headlines. Another major factor in its favor: it is being posted in all the right places. A simple but sometimes ignored key to going viral is distribution to the right channels and sites for the target audience.

The Appeal: Stripped Down Hits 

Besides having all the elements we’ve already mentioned at play, right now Millennials are attracted to stripped down versions of highly-produced music that has already made it big, probably as a reaction to many years of listening to over-manipulated, auto-tuned tracks. Fallon’s videos take advantage of that appeal, and also play to another current Millennial desire: to see that the musicians they’re listening too on the radio actually have some raw talent.