Yesterday, I was casually walking through my neighborhood when I saw an unusual sight: a slightly used Toyota scrawled on with presumably erasable marker and covered in a myriad display of colorful Stickies, displaying a message that asked that momentous question — “Prom?”
Perhaps I was less surprised with this creative prom proposal than I would have been if our community had not just witnessed the meteoric national popularity of a YouTube video featuring Jason Pitts, a Samo senior, who asked fellow senior Lianna Cohen to accompany him to prom through song.
Pitts strolls into Cohen’s third period class and asks, “Attention everyone, can I have a couple minutes of your time? Lately there’s been an important question on my mind.”
The song continues on for roughly a minute, when suddenly seniors Kian Nozari and Ryan Odening, and juniors Sam Balfus and Hanyu Chwe enter, providing some backup vocals and percussion.
“There was almost no preparation in making the video. I handed Max Tamahori my Flip video camera an hour before the event took place and told him to have it ready when I texted him as we were walking up the steps to the Technology building,” Pitts said.
Despite or perhaps because of the minimal preparation involved, the video has been viewed over 250,000 times on YouTube since it was posted on March 27. Cohen, Pitts and his four backup singers were featured on “Good Morning America” and “Inside Edition,” and appeared on the front page of such websites as CNN, AOL and Yahoo. The video has also been tweeted by several celebrities, including one “tweet” that Pitts believes to be the catalyst to the success of the video by long-standing American Idol host Ryan Seacrest.
“I believe the natural environment of the classroom and the quality of the video make it seem more realistic than something in a movie or on a television show, where that kind of stunt is normally done,” Pitts said.
There are a few other YouTube prom proposals, but none has reached over 250,000 hits like Pitts’ serenade. The reason for this particular video’s fame might be traced back to, as Pitts remarks, the fluidity and sincerity of the video.
However, as technology blogger and digital marketing, content and social media strategist Mark Evans remarked, with viral videos there is an element of luck and being at the right place at the right time. What, then, was the setting that allowed the “Prom?” video to reach this level of fame?
Prom has become a central focus of American culture and is beginning to blossom all over the globe. Over the past few decades, prom has become the culminating event of high school social life. Although formal youth dances were common as early as the late 1800s, proms only began to take on today’s iconic status in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II.
The very reason that prom itself became a phenomenon is perhaps the secret to Pitts’ success.
Chwe, back-up singer and YouTube-dubbed “Asian Shaker Guy,” commented that the success simply boils down to the fact that the video was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak landscape of depressing news.
“I think an important factor in this video’s success is its general light-heartedness. Television has been filled with bad news, and I think a lot of people are looking for something more uplifting. Adding some back-up singers and shakers is just perfect,” Chwe said.
The clip now has both national and international exposure and has become, according to Jason Pitts, a “prom-inent” highlight in his life and those of everyone involved.
“The compliments I’ve received are very heartfelt. For instance, a man named Victor on the East Coast told me that he had just gone through a bittersweet breakup with his girlfriend and that watching my video had lifted his spirits. Another man, Paolo from Italy, told me that he would show my video to his four young sons so that they would know how to grow up to be gentlemen,” Pitts said.
Pitts, according to several either slightly irritated young men or elated female YouTube commenters, has set the bar for all future prom proposals. A simple note passed during biology class simply won’t cut it anymore. Perhaps this is just the beginning of a trend of slightly ridiculous, outlandish and sweet prom requests. A sky-written prom proposition? A choreographed tap-dance routine that expresses undying devotions of love through Morse code? The world cannot wait to see what prom hopefuls will think of next.
The video that sparked it all:
What makes a Viral Video tick?
- Make it short: 15-30 seconds is ideal; break down long stories into bite-sized clips
- Design for remixing: create a video that is simple enough to be remixed over and over again by others. Ex: “Dramatic Hamster”
- Don’t make an outright ad: if a video feels like an ad, viewers won’t share it unless it’s really amazing. Ex: “Sony Bravia”
- Make it shocking: give a viewer no choice but to investigate further.
- Appeal to sex: if all else fails, hire the most attractive women available to be in the video. Ex: “Yoga 4 Dudes”
- Rules of “Thumb”:
- The thumbnail should be clear (suggesting high video quality) and ideally it should have a face or at least a person in it.
- Optimize all three thumbnails then change the thumbnail every few hours. This is definitely an underused strategy, but it’s an interesting way to keep a video fresh once it’s on the “Most Viewed” list
- Share share share: Through Facebook, blogs, forums, Myspace and emails. And, of course, the old fashioned way: word of mouth.
- Getting on the “Most Viewed” Page: The video will no longer be a single needle in the haystack of 10,000 new videos per day. It will be one of the twenty videos on the “Most Viewed” page.
But these days, achieving true “virality” takes serious creativity, some luck and a lot of hard work.
(All information from “The Secret Strategies Behind Many Viral Videos” by Dan Ackerman Greenberg, co-founder of viral video marketing company The Comotion Group.)