Archive for 'Marketing'

“The Greatest putt putt shot of all time”: 6 lessons in virality

Posted on 29. Jan, 2011 by .


Viral videos intrigue me. It’s rather amazing, actually. Companies spend billions of dollars trying to get people to care about their thing, trying to capture eyeballs. Yet, viral videos magnetically draw attention and eyeballs with no campaign, no marketing team, and no money spent. They hogtie the attention of millions leaving the suits on Madison Avenue scratching their heads.

So my attention was peaked last Saturday night when I got an email from JT, a friend who I also happen to work with:

“Thought you’d get a kick out of this. 24 hours and we already have 40,000 hits from my putt.

The video is pretty cool. My friend JT and a couple of his buddies were out putt-putting that Friday in Orlando. They noticed a little jet on one of the water hazards and thought it’d be cool to put the ball on it to see if it would lift up.

Sure enough, that’s what happened.

The guy filming the video goofily shouts, “It’s a ghost ball!“. Suspended in mid-air, JT takes a whack at it. Amazingly, the ball doinks off the wall and zips right into the hole. The guys explode in disbelief, and the video ends.

When I watched the video I had the same feeling I had when a friend from Huntsville, Ala., emailed me a video of this sensational guy named Antoine Dodson (I first watched that one when it only had 400 views). When I watched the now infamous “Bed Intruder” video I just had that feeling that it would go viral. Sure enough, it did, and the video became the most watched viral video of 2010. So I had the same feeling when I watched this video, aptly titled “Greatest putt putt shot of all time.”

The video took off. Dozens of major websites like Break, The Awesomer, and College Humor reposted the video. That led to traction in the social-sphere through sites like Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and others. Uber-popular viral video commentator Ray William Johnson reviewed the video in his bi-weekly youtube episode. From there the mainstream media picked it, as the video was featured on ESPN, E!, Fox & Friends, and several others. The views began to pile up. 40,000 turned into 200,000, then half a million, then it crossed the pivotal million views mark mid-week. As I write this post, it has been viewed more than 2 million times.

Two million people found the 30-second clip interesting enough to watch. All in all, human beings have spent more than 16,000 hours watching this video!

So naturally, I ask:

WHY? Of the millions of trick golf shots on the internet, why did this one take flight?

Since I have a personal connection to this particular video, I’ve spent some time trying to figure that out. As I see it, there are six reasons this video went viral:

1. Perfect title – Note how they titled the video, the “Greatest putt putt shot of all time.” Not “Awesome putt-putt shot!“. Not “Really cool putt-putt shot!“. No, no. It was “THE GREATEST!” Human beings are intrigued with the concept of “the best.” The Guinness Book of World Records has built an empire around this fascination. Tell me something’s cool, and I’ll pass over it; tell me it’s the best of all time and it’s a must-click. (Of course delivering on that claim is another issue entirely.)

2. It’s short – This video is exactly 30 seconds. Rarely does anything go viral that’s more than a minute or two. The internet has nuked our attention spans, so this brevity is a requirement.

3. Not one, but two surprises – When I watched the video, I was genuinely amazed the jet lifted and balanced the ball. It was surprising because I’m used to seeing golfballs move forward or out. You never see a golfball go directly up. That’s surprising. Then when JT hits the ball in the hole, I was surprised again. Two surprises in 30 seconds. As explained by the Heath brothers in their best-selling book Made to Stick, surprise is a powerful marketing tool. This video has it not once, but twice.

4. The meme – A meme has been defined as “a unit of cultural transmission.” Cultural memes often grow out of viral videos. Ever heard of these?

  • “Don’t tase me bro”
  • “Charley bit maaay”
  • “Hide ya kids, hide ya wife…”
  • “Double rainbow!”

These phrases are verbal canisters for the videos they represent–“units of cultural transmission.” They help us communicate quickly and easily. I would never ask someone, “Have you seen the video of the guy who freaks out about those multiple rainbows he saw?” No. I say, “Have you seen the ‘Double Rainbow’ guy?”.

The meme here is, “It’s a ghost ball!“. That goofy comment gave people an easy way to share the video. In offices all across America this week, people were asking each other, “Have you seen the ghost ball video?“. I’m not sure this video would have gotten the same viral traction without the ghost ball comment.

5. Authenticity – The grainy footage and the terrible camera angles towards the end of this video show that it’s authentic. If this was staged, the cameraman would have been sure to capture more faces. The guys would have stayed in frame more. And who could stage that ridiculous celebration? The guys were clearly shocked, and that shows in the mayhem that follows the shot.

Humans are well-wired to sniff out a fake. And this clearly isn’t one. It’s real.

6. Celebration – People love watching celebrations. Heck, sometimes I’ll watch the end of some national title of some sport I don’t care about like division 3 football or the NHL, just to watch the celebration by the winning team. I don’t know why; it’s just…special. Our earliest memories are of birthday parties and Christmases. We engineer celebrations into our calendar in the form of holidays, and we stop working to gather around tables, trees, and buckets of candy.

Even watching strangers celebrate on Youtube is fun. It reminds us that though our life may be hard, some guys somewhere on some mini-golf course are going crazy with joy. It’s fun watching people celebrate because it gives us hope that one day maybe we’ll get to witness a magical moment like that as well.

So here’s to you, JT. May you and your ghost ball live forever in viral Internet glory.

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Counting down the strongest brands in college football

Posted on 05. Sep, 2009 by .


If you’ve read the About section of, you’ve seen that I’m hooked on college football. Seriously. It’s bad. I’m from Alabama where football is kind of a big deal. We don’t have pro sports. All of our high schools are “football schools.” People argue about the Iron Bowl year-round. It’s a state-wide obsession.

In honor of the season kicking off this week, I’m counting down the strongest brands in college football. A brand is how people feel about a product or in this case, a team. Lots of things make up a football team’s brand including wins/losses, off-the-field incidents, coaches, traditions, etc.

Of 120 college football FBS teams, these are the ones that stand out the most:

7. Michigan – The Wolverines have had their share of negative press lately, but their brand is still pretty strong. Tons of tradition and a vicious rivalry with Ohio State make this program worth talking about. Ohio State actually strengthens the Michigan brand as they are the perfect villain in the Michigan story. Villains provide good drama. Drama provides good story. Good stories drive good brands. It also helps having a stadium the size of a small city and helmets that are consistently ranked as the most striking in all of football. The Michigan brand is big and bold and neck-deep in tradition.

6. Miami – I know what you’re thinking. How can the Hurricanes possibly make a list of top brands in college football? Well remember this, having a strong brand doesn’t always mean keeping your nose clean. If you asked the casual college football fan to give one word to describe Miami’s program, it would probably be the same (What do you think it is?). The Canes’ brand was sharpened under head coach in the 80’s when the players’ off-the-field shenanigans were like a non-stop episode of COPS. This also happened to be the same time they dominated the game, winning 4 national titles in 9 years. Officials at “The U” have tried hard to reverse the bad boy image, but brands don’t change overnight. It certainly doesn’t help to have  THIS footage from just a few years ago floating around.

5. Penn State – The Nittany Lions’ program thrives off one word: Tradition. It’s in their coach. It’s in their uniforms. It’s in their stadium. Head coach Joe Paterno, with his coke bottle glasses, has been around since the wooly mammoths, and is established  as one of the greatest coaches of all time. While teams like Oregon change their uniforms weekly, PSU’s uniforms are painfully plain and haven’t changed much in 122 years. Penn State plays in the gargantuan Beaver Stadium and their phenomenal fans have perfected the art of the “White Out.” Traditional, authentic, and credible are all words that ignite a strong brand. Penn State has it all.

4. Alabama – (FULL DISCLOSURE: Yes I’m an Alabama fan & yes I’m biased. So there.) The Crimson Tide is probably best known for its on-the-field success, psychotic fanbase, and gritty image. Alabama’s brand was pulled into the stratosphere by legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant who got his name from wrestling a live bear. Bryant’s gritty, blue-collar image was transferred to his smash-mouth teams of the 60’s and 70’s that were known for running the ball. Strong brands feed off legendary personas and Bryant was certainly that. As a side note, healthy brands feed off memorable, sticky images as well. The Bear’s houndstooth hat became that. 25 years later, you can still see plenty of houndstooth on game days in Tuscaloosa.

3. Notre Dame – When they are doing well, Notre Dame is the best brand in college football. Period. Unfortunately, Charlie Weis has done everything he can to stick the Fighting Irish in the crapper. Nonetheless, they still have a pretty good image nationwide. Touchdown Jesus, the exclusive TV contract with NBC, and the fact that their helmets are painted with real gold all make great stories. Of course the Irish’s greatest story was the movie Rudy, which came out in the 90s. Great brands tell great stories, and Notre Dame is the John Grisham of college football.

2. USC – The Trojans brand is a perfect storm, and they easily could have been number 1 on this list. They play in sunny southern California. Their trophy cases are crammed full of championship trophies spanning all decades, and somebody needs to call Congress because they practically have a monopoly on the PAC-10. It’s not uncommon to see Will Ferrell or Snoop Dog cruising the sidelines. Human highlight reel Reggie Bush and their statesman-coach Pete Carroll have been incredibly positive faces for the program. Right now, USC is the Ferrarri of the college football world.

1. Florida – The Gators’ brand has been pure gold in recent years thanks to two big factors. The face of the program has been Tim Tebow, a media darling who perfectly fits the American archetype of a hero. And he does it all–from rescuing orphans in the Phillipines to giving Braveheart-like speeches, inspiring his team to national championships. He is easily the most recognizable face in the sport. The other factor is simply, SPEED. Meyer recruited some blistering speedsters early on (ie Percy Harvin) and has continued doing so in Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, and Andre Debose. Recruits have noticed which has led to more speed. And as we all know, success in college football hinges on recruitment. The media has noticed also. Next time you watch a Florida game, notice how many times the commentators say the S word. Spurrier may have put the Gators on the map, but Meyer has catapulted Florida’s sleek brand into outer space.

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Getting to #1 on itunes is no coincidence

Posted on 31. Aug, 2009 by .


The top 10 lists on itunes always interest me. Of the thousands of new songs churned out by the recording industry, these are the ones that skyrocket to the top, fueled directly by listeners’ purchases.

I noticed this week that Miley Cyrus’s new song “Party in the USA” has been camping out at #1 for several weeks now. It’s your typical poppy tween song:

“I hopped off the plane at LAX
with a dream and my cardigan
welcome to the land of fame excess,
am I gonna fit in?

Jumped in the cab,
Here I am for the first time
Look to the right and I see the Hollywood sign
This is all so crazy
Everybody seems so famous

My tummys turnin and I’m feelin kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I’m nervous,
That’s when the taxi man turned on the radio
and a Jay Z song was on


So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflies fly away
Noddin’ my head like yea
Movin my hips like yea
I got my hands up,
They’re playin my song
I know im gonna be ok
Yea, It’s a party in the USA

Get to the club in my taxi cab

Everybody’s lookin at me now

Like “Who’s that chick, thats rockin’ kicks?
She gotta be from out of town”

So hard with my girls not around me
Its definitely not a Nashville party
Cause’ all I see are stilletos
I guess I never got the memo

My tummys turnin and I’m feelin kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I’m nervous
That’s when the D.J. dropped my favorite tune
and a Britney song was on

Feel like hoppin’ on a flight (on a flight)
Back to my hometown tonight (town tonight)
Something stops me everytime (everytime)
The DJ plays my song and I feel alright”

Her songwriters must be proud of their # 1 hit. Did they get there by coincidence? Let’s see:

1. Coincidentally drop the names of current pop icons (ie Jay-Z & Britney Spears).

2. Refer to Los Angeles as the land of “fame excess.” Coincidentally record it so that it sounds like “fame and sex.”

3. Coincidentally wrap your whole song in a metaphor that insecure pre-teen girls can REALLY relate to–going to school and feeling awkward and out-of-place. I’m not making this up. Look closely…

  • Getting off a plane in an unknown city = Walking into a new school
  • Jumped in the cab = Got in mom’s minivan
  • “See the Hollywood sign” = Pulling up to school, see school marquee
  • “Everybody seems so famous” = Ahhhh!!! Popular kids!
  • References to wearing the wrong shoes = I’m not dressed right! I’m a freak!
  • Pop music cures your anxiety = Miley Cyrus songs cure my anxiety!

4. Coincidentally  release your song on August 11 (same week kids started school here in America).

5. Coincidentally release your back-to-school song the same week school starts which is the same time as back-to-school-shopping which is the same time Miley Cyrus releases her new line of clothing at Wal-Mart. Hmmmm…..

Gee, you think these songwriters knew what they were doing? Songwriters know that their job isn’t nearly as much about notes and harmonies as it is about reinforcing feelings that already exist in the target demographic. Marketers are the same way. It’s no coincidence.

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