The Radio Today video is nice – but is it truly viral?

Have these men infected you?

Have these men infected you?

So during my commute this morning I heard something on my mobile phone’s radio something about the ‘viral’ thing Radio 4’s Today programme has done, and how it’s being picked up. Then I went into a tunnel, and only heard the tail end of the conversation where they mentioned John Humphrys’s pink thong.

I was intrigued, not least by the thong reference, but mainly by the viral reference. I’ve heard people say they’ve ‘done something viral’ before, and it’s usually involved sending out a mass email. To my mind, that’s not viral because it’s just been sent out, and pretty much ended there. People haven’t passed it on, and they haven’t attached any of themselves to it, by including a comment for example.

I’ve said before that viral is an effect, not a strategy, and certainly not an objective. So, simply because I’m blogging about it now, as has PR Media Blog, and Tweeted about it a bit, and included it below, you could say it’s viral.

But I’m not sure.

The way I see this, a virus slowly picks up momentum because people feel they’ve ‘found’ something which they want to pass on to other people. There’s something about the content that ‘infects’ them and then they pass that on in a sort of e-sneeze. So it’s a fairly slow-burn start, but for that same reason it tends to stick around. It was passed on because people found it and liked it, and people will continue to find it and like it.

So does something follow this pattern if it’s broadcast by radio? Am I talking about this because I’ve ‘discovered’ it? Will I continue to talk about it, or come across it, in a few months’ time? Or put it another way: can you ‘infect’ a mass of people simultaneously, and have this effect continue? And am I using ‘quote marks’ too much in this post?

In the short term, if lots of people are talking about it, it’s viral, right? But in the longer term I’d like to know whether it remains so – or whether, because it popped into the public consciousness because it was broadcast to millions of people throughout the country, it’ll pop back out again before long, just like ‘normal’ news. More quotes. Damn.

I should add that almost everyone I discuss viral with has a different viewpoint from me so I’d really appreciate insights here. I could be wrong. I’m wrong, right? Tell me I’m wrong.

26 thoughts on “The Radio Today video is nice – but is it truly viral?

  1. I think the whole idea of ‘creating a viral’ is prone to failure and I agree that viral is largely an effect. The reason that this works is that it is so clearly propelled by the Today programme itself. What happens afterwards (and I think it is happening) is a viral effect. For that to work there has to be a reason to view and the common factors are usually humour or insight (like the Dove evolution video). This video is quite funny plus there are many of us that were curious and that fuels the dissemination too. So is it viral? Well, no and yes.

  2. Interesting – could it be ‘cynical viral’? The start of a new trend, of PR-controlled virality? Which, to me, means it’s not truly viral. I’m uneasy with it… even though I am commenting on it!

    I’m going to watch it too, but only to have a nose around the R4 Today studio. Pass it on? I won’t be – because I’d feel like I was being manipulated in doing so.

  3. I think it’s extremely tricky. I personally die a little inside when a client asks to create a “viral”. What is created is content with the aim for it to be passed around or “go viral”.

    With the Today Programme and it’s average listeners, using the phrase “Viral” is an easier way to explain content that is designed to be passed around – it’s an often misused word that sadly has become the norm for many people outside the industry.

    Whether by mentioning it makes it no longer viral is completely up for debate. Personally I feel that even with a big kick towards the content (be it through advertising or mentions on radio/print/blogs etc) there might be an initial surge in views but it will only be truly viral if it is then passed around. However, one is incredibly naive to think that things “just go viral” there is usually a PR firm or seeding agency behind it driving views and helping it along it’s way.


  4. @Rob – no and yes?!

    @Richard – I like the idea of ‘not passing it on cos you feel manipulated’. It’s like, you didn’t catch the virus, you had it forced on you. You didn’t passively get it sitting on the tube one day, you got it because some oaf sneezed in your face.

  5. Hmmm, the most revered virals had to be pushed in our faces on TV. Weren’t we bombarded with Cadbury’s Gorilla or Cadbury’s Eyebrows? Looks like a good way for radio to test the viral effect and digital format.

  6. @Alex – sorry, didn’t respond to your comment cos it hadn’t come through when I was making mine!

    Agreed that it’s only truly viral if passed around. So if people continue to pass the Today video around, it’s viral. If companies ‘seed’ virals, which then continue to get passed around, it’s viral. In which case, the initial medium through which people get to hear/see/share this stuff is irrelevant. Whether or not something’s viral is whether it continues to be shared over time.

    Nice comments all. Keep ’em coming! A small part of me would prefer it if someone told me I was totally wrong…!

  7. No, because without the propulsion of the R4 Today programme it wouldn’t have taken off. Yes, because the viral effect has been evident and a lot of virals rely on propulsion from trad media channels. I don’t think I’m sitting on the fence so much as holding two opposing views simultaneously. It’s an internalised conversation…oh dear that’s a bit Nathan Barley.

  8. Hi All,

    I think R4 was starting from the wrong premise. They interviewed the guys behind this video a couple of weeks ago the phenomenon we all call “viral” – in particular about Cabury’s Gorilla and the dancing eyebrows. The main thrust of the debate was about the demise of traditional TV advertising and how YouTube vids are supplanting them.
    They then challenged them to create a viral movie for the Today Programme. And fair play to them they have done a decent job – it is funny.
    But is it viral. Viral to me is a side effect – it’s starts with some Sheffield fan putting some new subtitles on the film Downfall and sticking it on YouTube and telling his mates. There is absolutely no marketing spend and it does made.
    Here we have the biggest media brand in the world commissing a large digital agency to make a polished and professional video and then telling its four million viewers to go an look at it.
    That’s not a sneeze – that’s a gas attack!
    The video has now been up for four hours – its had 201 views.

  9. LOL! 🙂

    I guess there are two sorts of virus then. There’s the sort that is artificially introduced – that is, mass infection. Then the sort that is gradually disseminated, morphs, changes, picks up momentum.

    If we’re to use the viral metaphor, perhaps it’s the difference between epidemic and endemic. Epidemics are big but burn out eventually. Endemics linger and simmer under the surface for much longer.

    So, is the R4 virus an epidemic, or endemic? Is there a doctor in the house?

  10. @ Rob – the mighty Nathan B!

    It’s now a little more viral for me – found out from a contact the lady presenting it is R5 travel guy Nick Duncalf’s wife… dammit, it’s worked!

    Goes to show tho, needs a little extra spice to really do the job.

  11. I first came across the video earlier this morning when someone tweeted a link…I liked it – think it shows some nice self-deprecaion, humour and humanity – so I passed it on. I’ve seen it mentioned a lot this morning, dozens of times in fact, and would assume that the greater proportion of its spread is now coming from a viral effect than the mention of R4 this morning.

    It would have taken a (little) while longer, but had R4 not mentioned it but simply posted the video in a few likely places, then it would still have spread as far and wide as it is now, IMHO. And all videos need to get published somewhere.

  12. Ah, I guess we’ll never know! That’s what you get with a mix. We can’t peel out the broadcast effect from the word-of-mouth effect here. Or can we? Hmmm…

    I would love to be tracking this stuff to get an idea of how it develops. I’ve been considering building up a profile on socialmention or periodic word clouds in wordle, but just don’t have time. Maybe a revisit in a week or two’s time, to see whether there’s still any buzz about.

  13. It’s also about the quality of the content. However much R4 might’ve broadcast it, if the video had been rubbish it wouldn’t have been passed along. Content is king, etc etc.

  14. A lot of the comments on YouTube are saying it’s not that good.

    Considering the challenge thrown out was to do something ‘viral’, I’d say the response has been to produce a video and put it on YouTube, nothing more, simply because these things tend to go viral.

    I think a much more powerful way to do this would have been to enable people to produce their own responses or tailor it for themselves.

    The Obama viral is awesome. People love adding some of themselves to stuff they see – it’s a sort of screen-mania, just watch people waving at themselves in shop windows where a screen has been rigged to a video camera – and this is a wonderful example.

    I wonder if an audio version of this could have been done? The Obama video cleverly avoids actually stating the subject’s name for the precise reason that it’s probably a really hard – if not impossible – thing to do. But it could have been a nice angle, enabling people to insert themselves into a Today news item for example.

    Nike have some good examples of enabling people to contribute their own bits which stitch together to provide a whole: Could something similar have been done about how people feel about John Humphrys? Or, heaven forbid, James Naughtie (a thought: if we have to pronounce his name nock-ty, doesn’t that make Evelyn Waugh Evelyn Wok?)

    The Mitre pass-it-on is another cute example of this (, even if it is a pastiche of a Nike original.

    So, quality of content? Sometimes something can be so stunningly good, people pass it on, but not necessarily so. There’s credibility in being bad!

  15. @ Marjk – good point… it would also have carried much more currency had they not mentioned it on R4: let the virality do the work!

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  17. Nah. Nice job, but it proves nothing.

    A Viral grows up from the grassroots. Not as a result of top down carpet bombing via a huge broadcast media spend (or the free equivalent to the Beeb of course).

    Can you imagine the social media outrage if Microsoft or Virgin or Unilever had bought equivalent ad spend media spots to promote a ‘viral’?

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