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Viral videos need to be authentic.Jupiterimages/Getty Images

The Viral Video Manifesto

By Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe

(McGraw Hill, 226 pages, $24.95)

With all the fuss over viral videos, most companies have been befuddled about how to take advantage of this phenomenon for their marketing


Who better to ask for advice than Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe, who dreamed up the idea of putting 523 Mentos candies in 101 Diet Coke two-litre bottles, to film the subsequent geysers, and have drawn more than 16 million views on You Tube?

Actually, who worse to ask than them? The exercise was rather idiotic, even if fun to watch. It said nothing particularly useful about the brands. It was froth, to offer a fitting pun.

But if I approached their new book, The Viral Video Manifesto, with caution, if not distaste, I found that should this be a road you want to travel they are useful travel guides.

They can't give you a formula for fitting viral videos to your organizational strategy, since that varies by situation. But they do offer a sensible guide for the mechanics of making a video that millions might choose to watch.

And it could begin with getting rid of your normal video producers, particularly if they are experts in television and movies. The authors argue that "most of what we know about creating compelling video simply does not work online."

TV, for example, is designed to hook and hold viewers through quick cuts between many cameras, along with odd camera angles, shots from towering cranes, and crawls at the bottom of the screen on news shows.

That taps into the primitive side of our brain to hold our attention continuously – all that motion – but it's also deadening, making us passive (and less likely to change the channel). It isolates us in our chairs, dazzled and dazed, whereas viral videos have to engage the emotions and stir us to share with others.

"To go viral, you have to get your audience actively engaged, not passively watching. Television techniques that make us lethargic and passive work directly against this," they write. "It's only when you get rid of the old TV tricks and, instead, you really connect with us and get us fired up and smiling, that we'll stop and tell our friends about the cool online video we just saw."

They urge you to view viral videos as the 21st century sideshow, taking your inspiration from traditional circus and busking performers who knew how to grab and hold attention: "The sideshow was in your face, with a gritty reality filled with wild things you'd never seen before. That's what we see today in viral videos. It's immediate and unpolished, and it embraces the bold, daring, and unabashedly strange."

Here are four rules they offer:

1. Be true

Viewers crave authentic experiences. If you want your video to be contagious, it must provoke strong emotions, and being true helps in that regard. Instead of trying to control everything, as in a normal commercial or a television show, let it just happen. Don't get actors; use real people in real situations and you're more likely to succeed. And don't dress it up with camera tricks; film the scenario directly, with one camera, as the viewer might see the situation if present. For marketers, the message is simple: Be honest.

2. Don't waste our time

Avoid long introductions – indeed, avoid intros unless they are needed to explain the situation. In movies, the provocative, memorable scenes are known as money shots, and in viral videos you want nothing but money shots. For marketers, sad to say, that means no product shots unless they are central to the action.

3. Be unforgettable

You must show something that people haven't seen before, which they will find remarkable and not easily forget. So do something different . For marketers, the authors say the message is to be bold enough to be unforgettable. "The real risk in online video is trying to play it safe," they warn.

4. Show the real world

You need to show humanity, not perfection – an everyday, unpolished look. Real people, in real situations. "Carefully scripted dialogue that nails all your specific campaign messages feels unnatural. Perfect product shots look fake," the authors advise. "Keep it human. Humans have rough edges. We aren't perfectly on message, we don't go through life with scripts, and we don't always turn your logo toward the camera."

The book is provocatively written, with lots of useful examples of what works and what flopped in the viral video arena. If you're interested in this approach, The Viral Video Manifesto might help you to be more successful – or warn you to walk away from taking your brand in this viral direction.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter