Now that ‘virality’ comes in a can, do we have to say goodbye to organic web weirdness?

say goodbye to organic web weirdness virality comes in a can now viral videos

Last week, I happened across a video on Reddit of something glorious: A crazy son-of-a-bitch losing his mind on a guy playing a trumpet on the sidewalk. The freakout dialog is superb. The man – at least I think it’s a man – is perhaps the most perfect embodiment of a Web troll I’ve ever seen in the offline world. It’s great – Grade A Internet, apparently shot by an amateur who captured a serendipitous moment of random insanity.

(Warning: NSFW language)

The video is also, it seems, one of a dying breed: Viral content that has no link to corporate backers.

Anyone who’s worked in online media has heard someone – usually someone on the money side of the business – say something along the lines of, “Okay, how do we make this go viral?” Or just, “Alright, let’s make this go viral!” That is, of course, a ridiculous statement. You can’t just make something go viral. There’s no serum to pour into the Web’s water supply, infecting users with the need to share your content. Content either goes viral or it doesn’t. Right?

We were duped into believing that the footage was authentic.

Not anymore. Take a recent viral video to spread into all echelons of the online world: “Worst Twerk Fail EVER.” As we all now know, that poignant bit of Internet awesomeness was actually not a hilariously private fail, serendipitously caught on camera and released into the wild. It was, instead, produced by the anchor of ABC’s late night programming, “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” 

The sharing of “Twerk Girl” was real – it racked up more than 16 million views on YouTube. We believed we were seeing actual footage of a cute college girl who really was dumb enough to twerk upside down on her front door within falling distance of a glass table covered in a lit candle and flammable booze. Had we known it was a professional stunt woman catching on fire, choreographed by Jimmy Kimmel, the video would more likely have been seen as a mildly amusing skit, as opposed to one of those “You’re not going to believe this!” moments that we often feel compelled to share. 

In other words, Kimmel found a strategy that works. Yes, a certain bit of luck was involved. But the secret formula for achieving virality has clearly been cracked. The suits have won the viral Web game – or are at least getting closer to the finish line.

Other instances show that the key to making something go viral isn’t deception and faked “fails,” but simply corporate participation in memes. Early this year, for example, the Web became saturated with “Harlem Shake” videos. But, as Quartz reports, the popularity of this online phenomenon of silliness wasn’t due primarily to the public’s love of seeing people dancing like wackos. It was the fact that a hipster inside joke was identified by some enormous brands, including Facebook and Google, that were looking to ride social media momentum in the wake of Oreo and Tide doing the same thing so successfully during the Super Bowl black out a week before. 

The corporatization of the meme has accelerated further this year, with highly popular content being explicitly produced by companies as another form of advertisement. The highest profile example of this may be balls-of-steel daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking skydive from space, which resurfaced this week as an uncut POV video that has garnered more than 3 million views on YouTube in just a few days – all of which was, more or less, an ad for Red Bull. Less visible examples can be found on a ballooning number of websites like BuzzFeed (and Digital Trends) in the form of “sponsored content” – articles, videos, photos and more created for the sole purpose of spreading a brand’s message.

As the marketers get increasingly savvy, they’ll increasingly influence what “popular” culture is online.

As more and more of this sponsored content proliferates online, we’re not simply at risk of being tricked into thinking we’re seeing something “real,” although that may turn off some people. The larger issue is a fundamental shift in what the Web is. For most of its life, the Web as a massively distributed and democratic publishing platform has significantly outweighed the Web as a marketing platform. As the marketers get increasingly savvy, they’ll increasingly influence what “popular” culture is online. 

The flip side to this, of course, is that Web companies need money to survive and thrive. Selling banner ads alone isn’t cutting it any more, so sponsored content has arrived to fill the need for revenue. Without sponsored content as a revenue option, who knows how many online companies would be forced to shutter their servers.

At the end of the day, this evolution of a Web by and for the people to a Web by the corporations for the people to share, is surely inevitable. The Internet is still young. And the money men are still trying to figure out how to keep this thing afloat.

My only hope is that we will still have videos of crazy troll people losing their minds without viewers having to wonder if some advertising guy is off screen, pulling all the strings.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

Sony’s 360 Reality Audio is the epic sound revolution you didn’t know you needed

After Sony’s utterly bizarre press conference, I almost missed what was perhaps the most impactful sonic experience at the show. Luckily, I went back to Sony’s booth on the last day of the show, only to have my mind blown.

Decades-old Apple IIe computer found in dad’s attic, and it still works

A New York law professor went viral last weekend after he discovered an old Apple IIe computer sitting in his dad's attic. In a series of tweets, he showed that the vintage machine still works perfectly fine after 30 years.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Are you one of the billions who have watched these super-popular YouTube videos?

Viral videos can quickly garner millions upon millions of views, but even they fall well behind the view counts on the most watched YouTube videos ever. Those have been watched billions of times.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Legion'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.

AT&T jumps the gun with deliberately misleading 5GE launch

As excitement about 5G networks continues to build, AT&T jumps the gun with a ridiculous and deliberate attempt to deceive the public with 5G Evolution – a speed bump that’s based on improvements to 4G tech.

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.

Netflix’s rate hike is a good thing. Wait, wait, hear us out

Upset at Netflix for raising its rates? We don't blame you. Nobody likes to pay more for anything -- even if they love that thing. But you really should be thanking the streaming entertainment giant. The hike in prices is a necessary and…

Bezel-less phones are terrible for typing on, and it’s only going to get worse

Bezel-less smartphone screens look great, and foldable smartphones are an exciting part of the mobile future; but we don't like where the typing experience is heading because of these two trends.

Blizzard's dismal updates to 'Diablo 3' make 'Path of Exile' the better option

'Diablo 3' season 16, the 'Season of Grandeur,' is live. It attempts to shake up the stale meta-game with a minor tweak, but it falls far short of what fans of the franchise want. Better games like 'Path of Exile' are eating Blizzard's…

A wearable may save your life, thanks to A.I. and big data. Here’s how

Wearables are morphing from devices that send you smartphone notifications and track your fitness into gadgets that can monitor your health -- and maybe even save your life.

'Wargroove' is a delightful tactics game that lets you recruit cute armored pups

Wargroove is a fantastical Advance Wars successor with beautiful pixelated visuals and rewarding grid-based combat. In addition to a meaty campaign, Wargroove has an intuitive map editor that lets you create robust campaigns of your own.
Smart Home

Will everything from lamps to fridges be spying on me? Yes, and I’m creeped out

With the debut of Panasonic’s HomeHawk lamp with built-in video camera, should we be concerned that everything -- from couches to dishwashers -- could soon be spying on us? Here’s why the answer to that question is yes.

Debunking Dark Mode: Here’s why it won’t improve your laptop’s battery life

Dark Mode is known to improve battery life for certain devices, like a smartphone with an OLED screen. Does that apply to laptops, as well? To find out we tested two laptops, one running Windows and one running MacOS.