The “Cardboard arcade kid”, vs “Push button to add drama” – value in viral video?

Two weeks ago I posted a quick blog post about a video featuring 9-year-old Caine Monroy, who built a cardboard arcade over a summer vacation, and waited for his first customer to turn up.

Well, after two weeks, the result of his first customer happening to make a video about him, and then organising a flashmob via Reddit and Facebook is in.

Almost $200,000 dollars has been raised from what began as a child creating something cool with some old cardboard boxes, and it has a following that many brands would kill for. So what lessons could you take from something like this in terms of viral video?

  • Doing something interesting is key – if Caine hadn’t built his cardboard arcade for the fun of it, and then won over his only customer, filmmaker Nirvan Mullick, then none of this would have happened.
  • Relationships count – to make the flashmob happen, Mullick had help from the Reddit community, and also from friends and contacts who were able to post the event on popular LA recommendation sites and Facebook pages.
  • Spread it far – obviously we all put our videos on Youtube, but in this case, Vimeo actually received more views. Do you only focus on the first-placed site of it’s kind?
  • Give people inspiration – part of the effect has been kids around the world building there own cardboard arcades, which are constantly being featured on the Caine’s Arcade Facebook page etc.
  • Give people quick and easy ways to contribute – the scholarship fund suggests contributing ‘$1 or more’ to help Caine and other children prepare for college. Or you can buy a T-shirt or the film’s theme song via iTunes.

So basically:

  • Interesting.
  • Inspiring.
  • Relationships.
  • Shared.
  • Easy participation.

But what’s also missed in a lot of digital activity and promotion is that there was no guarantee that this particular video would take off. Besides Mullick’s time and energy in capturing and editing the footage and his promotional efforts since then, the reception it has received has been down to the people seeing it and responding, which led to media interest putting it in front of more people.

And yet still brands focus on big stunts and extravagant campaign approaches to video and asking people to do things. A lot of people have also been sharing this video for a new television channel launch:

OK, it’s a cool idea, and it does involve some participation in terms of kicking off the action by pressing the big red button, but then what? The audience watches everything unfold, and then possibly pays attention to the launch of a new TV channel in Belgium. Or not. It doesn’t lead onto anyone doing anything except watching some TV shows.

  • 29 Million Youtube views
  • 733 Likes on Facebook
  • 80 Followers on Twitter.

A couple of parody videos have been created, including a nice Lego version, but that’s about your lot. To put it another way, the big TV advertisement may have driven awareness of the television channel launch and resulted in higher audience figures initially, but most of you reading this would have comparable reach online, because messaging you is likely to give some interaction.

The question is what effect you want to achieve…