If you're on the internet, then you probably experience at least one viral moment each day.

Home videos, TikToks, and YouTube shorts go viral all the time...but can a podcast go viral? What exactly goes into going viral? And can virality be formulated?

In this episode of On the Mic with Ad Results Media, Lindsay Smith and Nathan Spell sit down with Creative Director, Tony Carnevale, and Copywriter, Molly Holmes, to discuss exactly what going viral means and the methods behind it.

Podcast Transcript


We actually use Scrib in our home.


Do you really love your sleep number? And we do


Well, Molly and Tony, thanks so much for joining us. Really excited to talk to you guys. Continue the conversation that we started in our last episode about viral content. First of all, for any listeners who haven't listened to you on the podcast before, we'd love for you to introduce yourself and just talk a little bit about your experience with viral content. So Tony, let's start with you.

(1m s):

Cool. Hi everyone. Yeah, I'm Tony. I'm the creative director here at ad results media. I work very closely with everyone. Who's currently on this podcast to create the stuff that we make and send out to our creator partners before arm. I was at Buzzfeed for a year, which is really to this day, a virality lab, so to speak. I think they were especially. So when I was there, which was about 10 years ago, which is truly ancient history, maybe in literal terms, but especially in internet terms. And I really, really learned a lot, even though I was only there a short time, it was sort of like a grad school experience and making viral content.

(1m 33s):

So, yeah.

(1m 3s):

Hello, I'm Molly. First time on this podcast. I've been at arm since this past July. So coming up on a year now, and I'm here as a copywriter. Most of my experience, I guess you could say in viral content has been consumption of it. I'm 23. So I've sort of grown up in the internet age, the digital age, the viral content age. And so, yeah, I've basically been consuming viral content for as long as I can remember. And so this is a really interesting topic for me.

(2m 9s):

Well, so you both have very different experience and a lot of it with viral content, but I'm kind of curious. Maybe we can start from the beginning because obviously viral going viral. These are like, this is like part of the lexicon for most of us. It's like something that we're steeped in. Like you said, Molly, I'm not quite as steeped in it from, you know, going all the way back to when I was born necessarily. But like most of my life I've known viral content, but what exactly does that word even mean? Like what does it mean to go viral for you guys?

(2m 1s):

I think for me, well, and I guess for everybody going viral is just something that's shared by a lot of people and shared extremely quickly. And so it's something that's pretty much instantaneously available and known in, you know, society and culture as a whole. So I think that would be bio for me.

(3m 2s):

Yeah. I think that's truly a very accurate definition of what Val viral content is. I think the word viral is getting at specifically that sharing aspect of it from person to person, much like a virus only, hopefully a good one in this case. So I think what, you know, there's stuff that gets a lot of views for various reasons. And I think there is kind of some blurriness between, okay, it is, I got a lot of views because the creator is popular or does it get a lot of views because this particular content has so to speak gone viral. And I think there's some overlap between those categories, for sure. But I think the sharing is really what makes something viral by definition.

(3m 3s):

So we've been talking about, you know, what vitality is all the ways that brands can go viral. But I think a lot of brands want to know, is there a way to predict virality? Is there a way to consistently go viral? You know, is there some sort of formula for creating viral content?

(3m 9s):

I would definitely hesitate to use the word formula, but I do think there are some kind of general principles that are helpful in trying to make something that goes viral. So I think one thing that really helps is that people share things with their friends and their contacts when the things that they're sharing play some kind of role in an ongoing conversation that the sharer has already been having with the people they're sharing it with. It's almost like, Hey, this is kind of something that we were talking about, or this has some barriers. This has some relevance to my life or, or something that's been going on in the world recently. So being part of an ongoing conversation, either between people like, so in other words, that would be something probably that is that taps into some specific kind of human truth type thing, because you can't know what any two random people are talking about, but you can make a pretty good guess that, Hey, if I make something that's very well observed about what it's like to wait in line for coffee at Starbucks, there's probably two people somewhere in the world having that conversation and they might share it also something that taps into a kind of macro level conversation that everyone in the world is having, whether it's something political, which I know a lot of brands probably don't want to touch or something in pop culture that everyone is talking about.

(3m 22s):

Like squid game probably saw a ton of squid game memes six months ago. And I'm still seeing them for a while. That was the only thing that anyone was talking about.

(3m 32s):

Yeah. I mean, I would agree that I don't know that there's a formula to go viral, but I think there's certainly things that make something going viral, more likely, like Tony said, things that people can identify with and relate to. So yeah, I would say there's not really a formula, but if you can have something that lots of people are talking about at the same moment in time, and you tap into that or an experience that lots of people are sharing and you can tap into that and incorporate it into content, then that makes it a lot more likely to go viral.

(4m s):

It sounds like there's, you know, this element of relate-ability is so important and maybe it's kind of a femoral. So that's why it's resistant this idea of a formula what's relevant now. And what's relatable now will change in a few months. I think that's really interesting. One thing though, that this brings up to me is some creators go viral constantly. One that we've been talking about a lot at ad results, especially on the creative team is Mr. Beast. And there are countless other creators that we could mention. How do those creators seem to figure out some sort of a formula, some sort of a process, why are they going viral consistently?

(5m s):

So Mr. Beast is a really interesting example because I think to a lot of people, it seems like Mr. Beast popped up out of nowhere overnight when in fact that couldn't be farther from the truth. So I think he just turned 2 this month, which is quite young to be successful at anything. But he started really, really devoting pretty much his entire waking life to YouTube and figuring out what works on YouTube when he was 11 years old. So he's been focusing to the exclusion of all else on YouTube for 13 years, have to do some quick math there. I think that's correct now 12 years, but he, he like pretended to his mom that he was going to classes.

(7m 2s):

And in fact, he was working on figuring out how things blow up on YouTube. So he's really been like a one man analytics machine for so, so long. And I mean, if you devoted a decade to figuring out what works on YouTube, you could be Mr. Beast. He's sort of like a one man Buzzfeed in a way. So yeah, so everything he makes now gets tons of use because he's got that momentum and he's got that platform and that gigantic following. And if you look at kind of what he does, it can be a little intimidating because so much of what he does now is based on doling out huge sums of money, which seems unattainable to us. But I saw a really interesting interview with him where he was asked, well, if you were starting from scratch and you had nothing, how would you go about getting the following that you have now?

(8m 1s):

Would it even be possible? And he was like, oh yeah. Oh yeah. I would get a million. I can get a million views in a month starting from nothing. And the interviewer said, well, how, what would you do? And he pulls out this list of ideas. He has tons and tons of ideas. They're not all generated by him. He has an entire team constantly working on ideas. And the first thing he said was while I would do something that, you know, that doesn't take any money, like I would make a video about walking across the entire width of the United States, which I will note, maybe it doesn't call it. You could, I guess, do that without a huge outlay of money, but the scale and the scope of that project is vast in a very Mr.

(8m 8s):

Beastie sort of way, comparable to the kind of stuff he makes today with a million dollars, just in a way that is demanding of time effort and, and all that. Even, even while it may not cost a ton of money. So I think Mr Beast's whole thing is about making things on a massive scale. However you can, where the concept of it just really blows people away and impresses them.

(9m 22s):

Yeah, I would agree. And it's funny because even mentioning squid game, Mr. Beast did his own version of squid game with a bunch of creators. I think there were even maybe some people that weren't creators just quote unquote normal people, but just things like that. He knows how to tap into the moment. And squid game was such like a big global phenomenon and he kind of took it and spun it and did it himself. And it's just another Testament to the fact that he can take these moments and continue, you know what I mean?

(9m 8s):

Like he's building on it.

(9m 9s):

Right, exactly.

(10m 0s):

And then the way that he built on it, I believe no one died, which I think is probably preferable.

 (10m s):

Yeah. Nobody died. So it was an improvement on squid game already. So that was a plus.

 (10m 13s):

It is interesting to think about how the spectacle that Tony was talking about walking across the country, you know, it's not expensive, but you would need to have a very flexible source of income to make it work. It's interesting to think about how brands who might be on a budget though, like that, that is a much more attainable kind of investment for many people. And maybe brands can think about smaller ways to invest, but still do something spectacular

 (10m 37s):

As a creative person. It's really exciting to see Mr. Beasts success. So tied to just concepts, just like kind of, you know, big, surprising, interesting concepts that just feel really clickable. I'd really love brands to, to learn that lesson from Mr. B's that like, Hey, if you put a little time into figuring out a really compelling concept, that can go a long way. Right.

 (10m 8s):

And just like you said, you don't even really need, I mean, of course he has a lot of money and use a lot of money now, but when he started, he didn't have that much. But even brands now can take advantage of things like social media to create content from kind of nothing you don't really need. You don't need money to make a Tik TOK. Right. And so we've seen that with Duolingo sort of they've capitalized on that whole unhinged content thing. And it's really sort of blown up just taking advantage of things that were already there. These viral trends, these viral sounds on Tik TOK and using them in their favor to promote their brand in sort of a crazy unhinged way.

 (11m 0s):

Yeah. They invested in what the mascot and I guess that was it really like if they didn't have that already,

7 (11m s):

I love duo lingos, Tik, TOK videos. I definitely follow them. They're hilarious. The Audubon society also kind of does the same thing as Duolingo, which, I mean, they're not, you know, they're not out here a brand trying to sell a product, but their videos tend to go viral as well. And they get millions of views just because they follow these viral tech talks, but then they use all the birds that they're, that they're following, which, which I think is really funny. Cause you wouldn't, you know, you wouldn't think like, oh, the Audubon society is going to be successful on tech talk, but, but here they are. So we talk a lot about going viral and a lot of the times we're referencing videos, but what about a podcast?

(12m 28s):

Can podcasts go viral and what makes for viral podcast content versus another medium?

 (12m 3s):

So yeah, I think podcasts absolutely can go viral. And we've seen more recently, a lot of sound bites, like audio clips from podcasts making their way onto Tik TOK in particular like one that I think probably a lot of people know about is when Julia Fox was on call her daddy. And she was asked if she considers herself yeas, muse, kinase, muse, whenever they were together. And she was asked like, oh, what is amuse? But the reason she went viral was because of the way she said uncut gems because they answer was, yeah, I guess a little maybe.

 (13m 1s):

I mean, I was Josh Safde’s muse on Uncut Gems, you know what I mean? And so the particular way she said that just blew up and it just spawned all of these videos really. Over-exaggerating the way you might move your mouth to say Uncut Gems and things like that. And also, I guess, I guess it was about, about the go now when Miranda Cosgrove was on the good for you podcast with Whitney Cummings and she said, you know, actually do cuss a little. And so that also spawned a lot of take talks of the original sound and then a song remix of the sound.

 (13m 7s):

And so

(13m 9s):

I've seen the tick talks, but I haven't seen, I haven't seen the song remix.

 (1m 2s):

Oh my gosh. Well, it's just sort of like a little, they just put music to it whenever she's like, probably fuck. And it's like, do, do, do, do, do do. And then people are just dancing to it. I know it's kind of ridiculous, but so yeah, just moments like that, that are just funny little clips that people can turn into all sorts of content on Tik TOK.

 (1m 2s):

It's weird that that one went viral to me because like the moment that everyone seems to be emphasizing is actually the laugh. Like it's the reaction to the moment.

 (1m 3s):

Oh yes. Whitney's she, it was a very obnoxious laugh.

(1m 39s):

I've I've seen her, I saw her repost that clip and she's like, I swear my laugh is not that unhinged. And I dunno, I liked it. I thought it was fun. Like she was clearly tickled, but, but yeah, so it kind of sounds like maybe clips of podcasts or little snippets are what goes viral instead of like an entire episode. I think a lot of the frenemies podcast and a lot of things that come from like Trisha pedis and Ethan Klein, I see them on tech talk a lot. And then that tends to bleed over to Instagram where people are sharing it. So it's just kind of interesting how, how podcasts seem to be going viral on other platforms.

 (1m 22s):

Well, the nature of virality in particular and the, the way that virality is defined by people, sharing things with other people lends itself to short clips, which is why these platforms that are centered around by reality, like Tik TOK are all about short clips and Twitter is about short passages of text. But I do think it is possible for full podcast episodes to have that viral pull. And we've seen it with things like Serial and we've probably seen it in some other true crime contexts as well. In particular, I think in those kinds of long form podcast executions, it seems like a real hook is inviting the listener to solve a conundrum, a crime, a mystery.

 (1m 8s):

It really seems like that's a great way to get one of those long form podcasts to go viral

(1m 13s):

Serial is a really good example.

 (1m 1s):

Yeah. It's also interesting. Whenever something that is having a viral moment, I'm thinking now of all the true crime podcasts that have been inspired by a Netflix documentary or, or, you know, it kinda, it kinda bleeds into itself. Sometimes

(1m 2s):

That's a good point. I didn't think about things that maybe have gone on to become like TV shows like, like Dr. Death or dirty John. So what are some of y'all's personal favorite or maybe not your favorite, but viral moments that just really stuck with you?

 (1m 7s):

Well, it's funny when I think about viral moments in the past, like earlier, I think of a lot of YouTube videos because I remember being very young when things like Charlie the unicorn came out

(17m 1s):

And I remember Charlie the Unicorn

 (17m 3s):

Fred and it's like those sorts of videos that just suddenly they came out of nowhere and all of a sudden everybody, like I was in, I think middle school, everybody was like talking about it. And that's one that stuck with me also when I was a freshman in high school, the don't hug me. I'm scared video came out.

 (17m 2s):

I'm scared. I'm obsessed with it.

 (17m 2s):

I think that one is like a great example because it was just so shocking to me at the time. I'm like, what 1? And this cute little video turns into something just horror-esqe and macabre. And that's one that I really, that sticks with me when I think about viral moments and viral things, because that one was just so crazy to me as a teenager.

(17m 2s):

I don't think I know this video

 (17m 3s):

Either. I'm slightly older than Molly. So if she was 1, I was probably 17, 18, right. When it came out. But, but yeah, I was a full grown adult, like with a 401k and it is disturbing, but in a really fun way, like a David Lynchian just almost bordering on humorous, but also really chilling kind of way. I'm so happy. You don't hug me. I'm scared Molly because that's one of my favorite things ever. And I wasn't even thinking,

 (18m 22s):

Oh my gosh, I, I vividly remember it. Like I was a cheerleader in high school and we were all getting ready for a game. And somebody sat down at the computer and was like, I have to show you guys this video. And so it was like 10 of us all huddled around the desktop computer and we watched it. And I think all of us were just like, whoa, what, like, what did I just see?

(18m s):

Look this up.

 (18m s):

I really can't believe you've never heard of it. I showed it to my roommate freshman year of college because she hadn't seen it. So even years later I was like, this is something that you have to see.

 (18m 7s):

And it became a series they made like six of them or something.

 (18m 9s):

Okay. So I've definitely seen this. I completely forgot the title of these videos. But as soon as I, as soon as like the image came up, I was like, oh yes, this is very deeply buried in my subconscious, because like a chill went down my spine as soon as like, just like Sesame street, but disturbed.

 (19m 21s):

Yes. Well, because it just turns in the middle of it. And I think maybe that's part of what made it so viral. And so six festival when it came out was just because there was this big twist in the middle of it. And I don't know that we really see that so much anymore, but I think it definitely lended itself to its virality at the time.

 (19m s):

It was very much a product I think of it's time too, because it would be an uphill battle for a long form video like that. So to go so viral, I think now I think, I don't know, but it was so good and I want more

 (19m 7s):

And made more.

 (19m 8s):

I know, I know, I know one thing that, that happened last year, maybe the beginning of this year that I thought was really fun was the resurgence of the little lad who likes berries and cream, tick tock,

 (20m 13s):

Tick tock.

(20m 1s):

It was all overtake talk. And that was Starburst, right?

 (20m 17s):

That was a Starburst commercial from, I think 2007, which is now a perfect example of a thing, which has been recontextualized on Tik TOK and has had a new life. And this one is interesting because you can actually pinpoint how that happened. Justin McElroy of the, my brother, my brother and me podcast. And so many other creative endeavors just posted a clip of the little lad, like dance instruction video, which is also, I think from 2007. And he, with the caption above it, something like make great art with this. That's what we need right now. And the internet responded to his call to action. And there were so many clips of it. You know, women being like when I'm trying to grow out bangs, but they're not growing out.

 (21m 0s):

Right. You know, they feel like they look like the little lad who likes berries and green. And I, I that's, that's a really fun example cause I love the original commercial. I just think it was a really fun character, really weird, kind of like what the heck is this? And then to see it have a second life about 1 years later is super fun.

 (21m 20s):

That's such an argument for like the concept. The concept that worked in 2007 is still so funny. And obviously I actually remember seeing like the dance instruction videos when it came out, because I also love this ad and it's perfect for tick-tock. That's like literally what tic-tac basically built for.

(21m 0s):

I remember very specifically. And I'm curious if y'all remember these videos, shoes. Yes,

 (21m s):

Of course. Of course. Love shoes,

 (21m 7s):

Shoes. And this was kind of pre YouTube, but the end of the world.

 (21m 3s):

Oh yeah. Classic.

(21m s):

I was going to say Molly. It might be like I said, it was pre YouTube. It was when it was when flash videos were very, were very popular.

 (22m s):

Have you heard people may be doing this whole, a citizen have a naps and then fire ze missiles? Have you heard that? No. Oh man. Okay.

(22m 12s):

Well I have to share it with you. I'll send it to

 (22m 1s):

You. I think it's supposed to be a vaguely French accent.

(22m 17s):

Yes. I remember that one making its rounds when I was still in high school, it was extremely popular around the same time as Charlie the unicorner so yes.

 (22m 28s):

Do you remember Strindberg and helium?

 (22m 31s):

I know

 (22m 32s):

There was, this was also before YouTube. It was I think a flash video. So I think the thing was August Strindberg is a real life depressed poet from some century that predates ours by many years and Strindberg and helium was just a series of videos where the character of August Strindberg, this very goth, sad, depressed man, basically pals around with a fictional character named helium who kind of looks like Kirby from the Nintendo games and act kind of like a Pika Chu. And so he's just this little cheerful guy and all, he says this, his own name and a squeaky voice. So Strandberg will be like saying some dark poem about how sad he is because he can't find love.

 (23m 1s):

And then helium will float onto the screen and go anyway. I feel like I'm crazy now because I'm the only one who knows this. But if you Google sprint and helium, you might find it.

(23m 27s):

I'll have to look it up for sure.

 (23m 29s):

Well, the internet is a vast and we could talk about viral moments, virality forever, and we would still have more to talk about because more would be created while we were talking. But this has been really fun conversation. Tony, Molly, thanks so much for joining and for sharing your experience and your expertise with us.

 (23m 8s):

Thanks for having,

(23m 1s):

If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe for updates on future episodes and leave us a comment with your feedback, questions or ideas for future segments. If you would like more information on ad results media and what we do, please visit us online at adresultsmedia.com.  This podcast is an Ad Results Media production.