by Tim Staples and Josh Young, co-authors of “Break Through the Noise: The Nine Rules to Capture Global Attention“
I’d blown it.
I was standing outside a hotel suite in the middle of winter in Madrid and sweat was pouring down my face. On the other side of the door was Cristiano Ronaldo, the global soccer superstar and one of the most famous people in the world.
And he had just kicked me out.
My mind raced. Today was supposed to be one of the biggest days of my career, but it was quickly becoming my worst. As I sat in the dark hallway with the sounds of a loud conversation in Portuguese pouring through the door, only one thought was blazing through my head: had we pushed it too far?
The year was 2015 and my company, Shareability, had already been behind some of the biggest viral hits of the past few years. With each new video, we had pushed the limits further and further, which gained us international attention and eventually led to meeting Ronaldo’s team and getting into business with him to launch a new brand.
Hence, we were in Madrid for our first shoot with Ronaldo and his headphone brand, ROC. True to form, we were pushing the limits. Instead of merely shooting a routine commercial, we had sold him and his team on a crazy, real-world stunt, where we would dress him up as a homeless man and have him beg for money in the middle of one of the busiest plazas in Spain. A plaza, mind you, that — because of his instant recognizability — he couldn’t normally walk into because he would be mobbed. Most superstars with Ronaldo’s level of fame wouldn’t dare such a stunt, but Ronaldo’s manager, a brilliant guy named Ricardo, understands what it takes to make his friend and client stand out from the crowd of celebrities.
But when Ronaldo arrived on set, something changed. Maybe it was seeing the stony faces of the six ex-Mossad agents that we had hired to secure the plaza in the event something went wrong. Or maybe he was just having a bad day. But for whatever reason, he was now having serious second thoughts about the whole thing, and I was stuck in a hallway, struggling to keep my composure as I wiped my forehead every eight seconds.
This went on for several minutes that felt like hours. Then finally, the door swung open, and the man known around the world as CR7 stepped out. He looked at me, gave me a simple thumbs-up, and headed down the hall to wardrobe.
The shoot was on.
The resulting video, “Ronaldo in Disguise,” became an immediate viral sensation. It was the fastest branded video to reach 30 million views in the history of the internet, and it went on to accrue well over 100 million views. The video ended up being the most-shared celebrity ad in the world that year, surpassing global brands like Apple, Samsung, and Pepsi — all for a brand that nobody had ever even heard of the night before the video was launched.
And, in the process, we brought the concept of shareability to worldwide attention with one of the biggest stars in the world.
Shareability is how and why content is shared online. It is a concept at the heart of creating meaningful success on the internet and one that I believe in so strongly, I named my company after it.
There was a time when “viral” simply referred to, well, viruses. These tiny parasitic microbes would develop a superior ability not only to infect their hosts but, more important, to spread to new hosts. The idea that a creature so small could spread so quickly to so many people was very powerful, and when small videos started spreading like wildfire, the term was simply adopted, and it stuck. In the modern zeitgeist, this concept is so entrenched that when people hear “viral,” they often think of videos first and infectious diseases second.
From around 2008 until 2015, as the internet gained users by the hundreds of millions, viral videos were all the rage. They sprung up from people emailing or texting their friends: “Wow! This is so cool! You gotta watch it!” The first person would then send it to the next person and so forth until it spread so quickly that it reached the point where if you hadn’t seen that kooky video of the dog jumping back and forth through a flaming Hula-Hoop, you just had to go online to check it out.
The success of early YouTubers altered the branding landscape. As millennials raised on smartphones turned away from television to more original and outrageous content on the internet, a new generation of self-made media stars was born. This period was fueled by a sense of discovery — young people felt like they were uncovering new talent, rather than having it forced on them by out-of-touch media companies, and this created an audience that was far more vested in the talent’s success.
As these YouTubers showed what was possible, brands jumped in and tried to do the same thing, that is, create viral content and build communities of followers. The focus on promoting brands on the internet was all about going viral, getting as many eyeballs on your content as possible. Millions of dollars were spent trying to make ads go viral.
When the very first YouTube video was uploaded, on April 23, 2005, not many people had video cameras, let alone the then-revolutionary delivery system of “broadband” access. But by 2018, more than 1.3 billion people were using YouTube, watching 5 billion videos a day and uploading new content at the astonishing rate of 300 hours of video every minute.
With so much content available at everyone’s fingertips, the world became a very noisy place. People became bombarded by content, exposed to as many as 5,000 online ads per day.
For brands this created a tricky issue. Not only are the vast majority of people jaded and immune to traditional commercials, but they are also very sophisticated and adept at filtering the noise. On platforms like Facebook, they swipe up like a serial dater blowing through Tinder, based on a split-second gut call. On YouTube, the only reason they stay is to wait for the skip button to appear in 3…2…1, and then it’s a quick look and click. Add that to the algorithm changes on the major social networks, which limit the number of people who see your post, and you begin to see the difficult challenge of getting people’s attention.
The irony is that while everyone is trying to be noticed, no one gets noticed. In a world with no attention span, even virality has become less valuable.
Remember the woman who bought the Chewbacca mask at Kohl’s, put it on while she was in her car, and made a video laughing at herself? At the time, back in 2016, it was the biggest live-streaming video on Facebook ever. It was viewed by 162 million people, more than double the number who saw the second-place video that year.
She became a major internet sensation, appeared on The Late Late Show, and received thousands of dollars in perks from various companies looking to ride the tail of her notoriety. But the shelf life of her fame was about two weeks. She then returned to her normal, everyday life, and now people would be hard-pressed to remember her name. Sometimes viral gets you nowhere.
So how does a brand embrace the dynamics of the internet world and break through all of this noise?
The answer is simple: Be shareable.
Being shareable means that you create content with such high value for the people viewing it that they are compelled to share it with their friends. This mindset puts the viewer first and builds a relationship before attempting to sell, essentially the opposite of traditional advertising’s approach. As you’ll learn in this book, understanding shareability and attracting shares are some of the most valuable things you can do for your brand.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask the Ayzenberg Group, the firm that delivers the Ayzenberg Earned Media Value Index Report. In an attempt to quantify the value that social media response provided to brands, the report assigns a dollar value to the various actions, such as a Like, a share, or a comment, that people can take on all the different social platforms. For example, in 2018 they gave a VPS (value per share) of $2.58 on Tumblr, $2.14 on Facebook, $1.67 on Twitter, $0.91 on YouTube, and $0.10 on Pinterest.
The share is the most coveted action. It commands the highest premium and delivers the most value. That’s because a share is what turns your audience into your brand ambassador, engaging them to tacitly recommend your brand messaging to their friends. This “word of mouth” endorsement has always been the gold standard of advertising, because it is the most meaningful.
Being shareable is all about making people lean in rather than click off or swipe past.
All social platforms are built on the concept of sharing. They all promote content that shares well — and people on those platforms will share your brand message if it’s crafted right.
That’s an incredibly dynamic concept. People will share your brand message. It’s the ultimate word-of-mouth marketing — you get the people to do the marketing for you. You give them something of value, something that just so happens to be carrying your brand message, and they share it with their friends, saying, “Hey, check out this cool thing I found!”
You are the cool thing. You.
Think about that. You are no longer the ad they all swipe past instantly. Instead, you are the beautiful pebble they find on the beach, the cool new trend they love, the most happening of all the new things.
This evolution past virality is called shareability. Virality is still a good thing, but it is increasingly harder to attain and even more uncontrollable when captured. Shareability, on the other hand, grants predictability and value and allows your message to grow exponentially.
Though virality hasn’t totally lost all its magic and can be useful, it’s just no longer the top goal for content. Virality will always be a useful mechanism in branding but chasing virality is a thing of the past. The focus now is on being shareable. That will expand your message, give you a competitive advantage, and grow your brand.
*adapted from”Break Through the Noise: The Nine Rules to Capture Global Attention” © 2019 by Tim Staples and Josh Young. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.