05 Sep 2015 20:05 IST

Going viral in 2015

What if Kolaveri was made today? New strategies would be needed to make it the phenomenon it was in 2011

The lament that became cool when it went viral in 2011 is heading towards a 100 million views on YouTube. Why this Kolaveri di?, sung by Dhanush for the Tamil film Moonu, has crossed 97 million views and the 100-million mark is probably just two weeks away, says Shridhar Subramaniam, President India and Middle East, Sony Music.

Not only that, there’s another milestone on the horizon. The videos of the user-generated content, of those who sang/danced or made the song their own in some way or the other, are set to hit 500 million. Both are firsts for any Indian video, says Subramaniam, adding that it proves that viral doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a flash in the pan. Four years later, when social media reach has proliferated, what would Sony Music and the digital experts it charged with the task, have done differently?

“We would have taken absolutely the same route today,” says Prashanth Challapalli, Senior Vice-President and Digital Head, iContract, Contract Advertising. He then headed business at Jack in the Box Worldwide, the digital agency that took the Kolaveri video viral. Today it’s tougher to get it to trend as there is so much clutter. The one more thing he would have done: “We would have got people to share their songs with us and got Dhanush to sing them.”

Back then, the agency made sure it seeded the song with influencers on Twitter — movie and music stars, production houses and such. Twitter, Facebook and email were the modes of maximum distribution. People shared it just because they liked it. “Today anyone with 10,000-20,000 followers on Twitter expects to be paid for promoting something,” says Challapalli.

Digital gets deeper, wider

Greater internet access and the rapid spread of social media has ensured the challenges are far greater today. Subramaniam reels off some statistics: The number of internet users in India in 2011 was 50 million, now it’s 250 million; 120 million use social media as against 30 million then; YouTube users number 120 million as against 20 million. What were nascent social networks then, such as Instagram and Pinterest, have come into their own now. “Virality is no longer just a video. It’s possible for various media to go viral,” says he, pointing to how even pictures can go viral, and cites Kim Kardashian’s attempts to break the internet tweeting a picture of herself with a glass of champagne balanced on her posterior.

“We would have used a lot more social media than we did then,” says Subramaniam. In fact, the folks at Sony Music heard the song way before the music was released, and felt it had a certain je ne sais quois. Tamil film producers usually do not part with video until long after the film’s release, explains Subramaniam, so Sony Music made a new video with Dhanush, composer Anirudh Ravichander and the others and let it loose in Chennai circles. It went on to become cool even in non-Tamil regions, with even Amitabh Bachchan talking about it, and then got viewed in several countries around the world. Among other things, “its pidgin English has a certain coolness to it,” says Subramaniam.

Anees Merchant, Senior Vice-President, Blueocean Market Intelligence, says showing the lead actor recording the song in a studio, rather than the usual song-and-dance or larger-than-life show so typical of Indian cinema, was a fresh approach that went down well with youth.

Making it your own

Kolaveri gathered steam, as, along the way, viewers got into the act, generating their own content centred on it. For instance, there are several remixes for spoofs featuring footage of politicians. “We could easily have restricted the number of people generating their own content, but we let it go on. One element of virality is to let people make it their own product. You can manage the first 4-5 days but after that it goes in the direction people want it to,” observes Subramaniam.

Blueocean’s Merchant adds that the effort got the targets right. That audience – youth glued to their smartphones 24x7 – shares bits of everyday life enthusiastically on social media and this helped immensely. He quotes social samosa’s findings on how the campaign fared between November 16 and December 5, 2011 – the total number of impressions on Twitter was over 8 million, tweets totalled 96,323. On YouTube, views on the official Sony channel crossed 16 million, of which views from India were over 11 million. A few months ago, Coca-Cola Turkey made a music video that gave Kolaveri a makeover.

Challapalli says there is no such thing as a viral video, there’s viral marketing. Today the number of views Kolaveri would get would be much lower. Attention spans are smaller as there is so much more content to consume. Good content will always work but will need to be marketed because of social media clutter. After the success of Kolaveri, Jack in the Box got a lot of briefs for similar marketing efforts but did not take up any. Why? “Because there cannot be a second Kolaveri, and if that was the goal, it was bound to fail,” says Challapalli. “Each effort should have its own, specific goal, not aim to replicate Kolaveri’s success.”

With inputs from Jessu John

This article was originally published in Catalyst.