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A slippery tale of viral success

by henrycopeland
Thursday, December 16th, 2010

This morning I watched a fun video about snowboarding the slopes and alleys of Montmartre, the big hump of land on the north side of central Paris. The video is called “Montmartre.First Historical Snowboard Ride.” Dropped on Youtube on 12/09/10, the video already has 413k views.

When I got to the video’s end, Youtube recommended another video, “Snowboard Freeride à Montmartre Paris.” Posted a year ago (12.19.09), that video had only 24k views.

Clearly the “First Historical” video wasn’t first. That set me to thinking, why is the second video’s pull so much bigger than the first?

Some of this difference may lie in luck, the mother of all viral success. But you usually have to be good before you’re lucky. And this year’s video succeeds not only because of the juxtaposition of snowboarding and the city of love, but because it’s a great video. Watch the videos, then read my hypotheses below.

Here’s what I think. Last year’s video (top) failed/fails to hit it big for a bunch of reasons: it’s tightly focused on snowboarding. The music is targeted to thrash-loving snowboarders. The title is in French. The humans aren’t visible as distinct individuals. The same scenery is rehashed multiple times. There’s no development of character or location.

Even though this year’s video (bottom) is 50% longer (a viral no-no, right?), it has a lot more going for it. The biggest advantage are the video’s human characters and its implicit narrative. There’s the faux documentary title frame with a date and “first descent.” Even if you don’t speak French, you can tell that this is the tale of a couple of guys going out for an adventure. “Hey, a tram, that’s almost as good as a ski lift!” There’s lots of good-natured banter and chuckling. Some change-ups in camera perspectives. Varied scenery, including swoops among startled pedestrians and parked cars. And the whimsical music appeals to a far wider audience.

In short: narratives rule, even when they’re implicit or conveyed in words the audience doesn’t fully understand.


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