Brent-Coker---Going-Viral Book Summary

Brent Coker: Going Viral Book Summary

📕 The book in one sentence:

Packed with real-life examples, research, and practical techniques – this is a go-to book for anyone who is interested in understanding how something can go viral and how to create campaigns that can reach many people, be it to promote a company, product, or idea.


3️⃣ guiding principles:

There are 3 guiding principles when creating content with a high potential of going viral:

  1. All your decisions regarding an online campaign and its development should be based on motivating people’s reasons to share.
  2. You should make sure to eliminate or minimize the reasons not to share.
  3. You should carefully evaluate the motivation to share and the number of people who will have that motive to share.


🚀 Motives to share:



Self-enhancement is a psychological tendency people have that allows them to feel good about themselves and maintain their self-esteem. To self-enhance, people tend to accentuate the positive things about themselves and downplay the negative things. For example, people have a tendency to emphasise positive traits that they have but point out negative traits that others have as it makes them feel better about themselves.

Moreover, people portray themselves online as who they want to be rather than who they actually are, with an intention to make others feel bad about themselves (consciously or subconsciously). Knowing that their network might not have the same opportunity to improve their self-esteem allows them to self-enhance.

However, we self-enhance in different ways and for different reasons. This means, that we need to understand the self-enhancement motives in our target audience when creating online marketing campaigns.

Here are a few ways that people may try to get a shot of self-esteem:

Approval cues – from positive feedback, such as comments, shares, and likes. If they share something online and do not receive positive feedback or get no feedback at all, then it’s pretty much the same as receiving negative feedback, which then usually pushes people to delete the thing they have shared as it has a negative effect on their self-esteem. Examples of what people may share to receive these approval cues include their recent purchases made, sporting or life achievements, and some amusing or interesting situations they were involved in.

Membership cues – a tendency for people to signal something unique about themselves and share information that legitimises their belonging to a specific group they want to be a member of. Knowing the lesser-known values, the ones that are not well recognised by outsiders can help marketers identify what content their target audience is most likely to share.

Impression management – a tendency to share information with others to signal something meaningful about a character trait. So, even though we know that the main goal for sharing something online is for a person to show a part of themselves to others in order to self-enhance or confirm their place in a specific group, the reason WHY people want to do this can differ from person to person. For example, an older motorcycle enthusiast might share images of motorcycles with friends to tell them that he/she is still young, whereas a surfer may share his surfing videos to remind his/her colleagues of his/her skill and experience at surfing.

As a marketer, you will need to look at your target audience’s values, beliefs, and what they care about. The best way to start looking for their self-enhancement motives is usually their group membership. You’ll need to listen and observe their behaviour, know where they hang out and what they talk about online.



The stronger the emotion an ad can elicit, the more likely it is that a person will want to share it, especially if they want their followers to feel a certain way. For example, if they find a funny video that makes them laugh, they will want to share it with others, hoping that it will make other people laugh, too. And if the ad doesn’t affect the viewer in any way, then there will be no motivation to share it with anyone. Similarly, if a person thinks that the emotion other people will feel will be negative or ambivalent, then they will not share that content with anybody.

Emotional Contagion – People have an impressive ability to recognize emotions from facial expressions, and emotions transferred between people from facial expressions are highly contagious. Showing short (1-2sec) scenes of people’s facial expressions in the ad reacting to events in the story can help you achieve this. Another tactic you can use is music, which should be matched to the intended emotions in the story of the movie/ad.

Self-evoked Emotions – Another powerful way to transfer emotions is to generate an emotional response through memories. You can target nostalgic memories to people’s youth as these tend to be quite general and easier to access (e.g. include childhood games, music, events). To be effective, emotions must switch between a negative emotion to a positive emotion, in a fast manner. The faster the emotions change the better results you can expect to receive.

“Now think about public service advertisements that are designed to change an endemic behavior in society.  They are usually designed to keep everybody safe by changing the society’s behaviours and opinions. The only way for PSA to have an effect on people is if it changes people’s beliefs, since it’s people’s beliefs that influence their behavior. Emotions on their own don’t change people’s beliefs. The way to change the beliefs is to make people think about the things that matter to them. Thoughts that matter to people almost always come with associated emotions, so try to make the viewer feel emotions from their own memories. Emotions from meaningful memories can change people’s behaviours. One way to activate an emotional response internally from existing memories is to use metaphors as it removes the message of the story from its context”.

People tend to successfully predict how others will react to situations based on their own experiences. If someone found something funny, they’ll assume everyone will also find it funny. When people estimate that other people will feel a certain way, and that way is likely to result in gratification, that person will share.



“Another way to create physiological arousal is by creating strong anticipation – the body’s response to uncertainty in life. Imagine yourself waiting for an upcoming event that you think is good and your feeling of anticipation will feel like yearning. Now imagine that you are waiting for something to happen that you don’t want and it will feel like dread. Feeling of anticipation can be just as strong (or even stronger) than the emotions experienced during the actual event, meaning that it affects you both physically and mentally. This is the primary reason why anticipation makes people share as it tends people to feel more social with others”.

“Anticipation and fear tend to be comparatively strong and thus tend to trigger a physiological response. This response has two distinct elements – arousal and mental alertness. Viral content usually creates a strong emotional response, but it’s not the arousal that causes the sharing, it’s the mental alertness. Content that increases someone’s wakefulness and alertness is shareable because wakefulness and alertness are entertaining regardless of whether the emotion is negative or positive.”

Anticipation can successfully exist alongside other emotions such as humour (one can feel anticipation when waiting for the punchline of a humorous situation as they expect to be entertained), awe (the feeling of fear and wonder that one may feel in the presence of greatness when something extraordinary beautiful or majestic is present), and thrills (the feeling of goosebumps and chills when something is emotionally moving, e.g. music, movies or videos that are close to heart).



“Affinity is a feeling of warmth, respect, and deep appreciation for an activity, idea or object. It is an enduring quality of feeling radiating from the heart and this feeling is critical for something to go viral. Affinity is a passion that somebody has for something that radiates from the heart. It is characterized by passion and is of greater importance for the prediction of viral content than emotion. If somebody doesn’t relate to or care about your marketing, then they most certainly won’t share it.”

“Time-based affinity creates a sense of warmth from memories that have meaning. For example, youth. Most people value memories from their youth. Find a memory theme that has a strong meaning from when people were young. E.g. everyone has memories of receiving gifts in their youth or the magic of Disney. These memories are tied to nostalgic times of being young, which do have importance for a wider range of people. They want to share memorable moments in their lives with others as a way to remind themselves that they have meaning and purpose. It’s important for marketers to understand, that when people feel an affinity with something, it feels like a sense of longing.”

“Never use negative affinity. You risk receiving an uncontrollable negative backlash and possibly irreparable damage against your brand. When a human disaster is trending on the news or Twitter, it’s best to cease all your marketing communications immediately.”



“A sense of justice is a powerful feeling that creates intrigue and motivates people to share. In fact, many of the world’s most viral stories are based on an underdog theme, because the power of our instinct to support the underdog runs very deep.  The basis of people’s desire to support the underdog rests on their sense of fairness and justice”.

In order to position your brand as an underdog, you will need to meet three conditions:

  1. Ensure that there is a real distance between the disadvantaged person and the observer.
  2. Create an unfair disadvantage as this is the only to create a sense of injustice. One way to show an unfair disadvantage is to humanize the disadvantaged character by giving him/her a name and story.
  3. Create a clear emphasis on effort and not one’s ability. The underdog character must appear to be trying to succeed, and the success is due to a concerted effort, not because of his/her superior skills. “The aim is to create a sense of deservingness, and if there is no sense of effort, then deservingness cannot be created. People will believe someone deserves something only when their actions are perceived as good actions, and when the outcome is also perceived to be good”.

“Creating an illusion of unfair disadvantage, where effort outshines ability, is the key to creating a successful underdog campaign. A true underdog has nothing to lose, but everything to gain”.



“Following the crowd is an interesting nature of human behavior. When we are in a group that’s laughing, we’ll tend to start laughing ourselves, or if we see that the majority of people buy a certain flavor of cereal, we’ll be more likely to buy the same as we’ll think they know something about this particular flavour that we don’t”. Herding occurs when people copy the crowd because they’re uncertain.

“Social proof’ is evidence that a significant number of people have behaved in a certain way. A website might have a list of current customers, testimonials, and statistics on how many people have previously purchased. This social proof might influence new visitors to purchase too”.

Seeding – for viral content to be successful, it needs to be seeded. Some people are able to spread information to more people than others. Similarly, some networks and groups (groups of people bound by some common interest or cause) can facilitate the spread easier than others. Seeding determines how successful the content is towards becoming viral.

“The first step to seed your content is to identify a suitable network and seed your content there. It’s important because it will provide the catalyst for sharing. If the shareable content is released into a small network with few connections, or to the wrong people within a network, then success is significantly lowered”.

Try to meet these criteria when choosing a network:

  1. Choose a network that is larger than 1,000 people.
  2. Choose members that are closely related to each other on psychographic (personality traits, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyle choices) and demographic (age, income, education, geographic proximity) variables.
  3. The networks must be close to each other in terms of frequency and volume of everyday communication.

“The next step is to identify the correct people in the network. If people see other people sharing, they’ll be more likely to share, but if they don’t see other people sharing, it acts as a disincentive. One solution to this problem is to focus on seeding to people in a network who are uber-influencers – people who are admired and impact the behaviours and attitudes of others. These people don’t follow the herd, they lead the herd. They are anti-herders. They are also trendsetters and leaders in the culture and fashion of youth. They are usually the first ones to adopt new things and take pride in being one of the first”.

Try to identify and approach anti-herders early, before your content starts spreading. Otherwise, they may lose interest in whatever it is you want to share and will not want to follow. Anti-herders will have larger than normal networks, greater influence, and might often be more social than normal members.

“The main trick to capturing the interests of anti-herding is signaling scarcity. Value for them is stuff that’s rare. One recent trend that uses scarcity and the attraction of anti-herders to help spread the in the early stages is the practice of ‘pre-launching’. This is a common strategy with new businesses that are about to launch. The idea is to create buzz surrounding the impending release of the app, by creating an exclusive member’s only preview”.



Most people have a desire to join groups. Vegetarian/meat lover, young/old, male/female are all fixed groups where members can’t easily change their membership, whereas voluntary groups are such as sports teams or political parties – they are more intentional and can be changed more easily.

“Groups can be a powerful force towards unlocking the power of viral spread. When membership can’t be easily changed, people rationalise their membership and are willing to defend it. This creates ‘buzz’ that helps spread the source of contention that drives word-of-mouth and contributes to the viral success of fixed group marketing campaigns”.

Steps for initiating group-based viral share:

  1. Find a probable split in your target audience by identifying separate and significantly sized groups in your target market. Each group must be significantly different from the other, and be large enough to create sufficient buzz. For example, a new sports retailer might use a snowboarder/skier split. As a marketer, you can also look for fixed group differences, e.g. gender, lifestyle preferences, geographical location, age, or family status.
  2. Define the ties that bind the group together and the group difference. Frequently the ties are the same as the differentiating factor between the groups. For example, snowboarder culture is arguably characterized by a skater-type rebelliousness, while skier culture is more reserved, like cycling.
  3. Once the tie that binds the group together or group difference is identified, you can begin to challenge the difference. It’s important that the source of contention is shared between each group. Having one group care about a source of contention while another group is indifferent will not lead to a passionate debate.
  4. Find a convenient way where members of each group can join in the fight (discussion) – create a mobile app, forum, or social media group.


Bonus: Bump ads for success

A bump-style ad has the right structure to maximise the chances of capturing people’s attention and being shared. It’s called ‘Branded Viral Movie Production’ (BVMP – pronounced ‘bump’).

“Bump’s guiding principle is that advertising is an exchange in value between the advertiser and the consumer as if the advertiser provides value by showing something that will affect the customer’s life in a positive way. When you engage someone’s imagination, then you can access their memories and emotions, and make them feel the advertisement, rather than argue against it. This is transformational advertising”.

Transformational storytelling follows the framework of three parts:

Equilibrium, where everything is normal as it should be,

Disruption, when some sort of event happens that shakes things up and is out of the ordinary,

Resolution – something that fixes the disruption to bring things back to normal.


To create a BUMP style advertisement:

  1. Create a story and use a transformational advertising structure – create the spikes of emotion in order to capture and hold the viewer’s attention. Use a narrative framework to tell the story. Start with an equilibrium phase, introduce a disruption, and always complete the story with a resolution. A story is basically an event that’s supported by a beginning that adds context to the event, and an ending that resolves any conflict created by the event  It has a beginning, middle, and an end.
  1. Include the brand. Your brand can either 1. Reveals itself briefly and intermittently through the advertisement, or 2. Be included as a character in the story.

The preferred option is the latter as it’s more subtle than deciding explicit scenes in the video to showcase the brand briefly. It allows you to showcase your brand’s character, such as:

  • hero (protagonist – the main character that seeks to do something admirable),
  • donor (an entity that gives the hero some magic),
  • false hero (a character who initially appears to be on the side of the hero, but turns out to be against the hero),
  • villain (antagonist – tries to inflict evil on the hero),
  • dispatcher (a character who sends the hero forth to begin their admirable request),
  • helper (a character who helps the hero to restore equilibrium).

“Successful video ads always include at least one of these characters. Whichever you choose, make sure to focus on the benefits of using the product, not the physical attributes of the product. People tend to think about how brands solve problems and the benefits of using the brand rather than the physical attributes of the product itself. The most optimal way to include a brand in an advertisement is to ‘pulse’ it. This means that the brand reveals itself briefly and intermittently through the advertisement, rather than just once at the beginning or end”.

  1. The structure of your video movie should spike hits of emotion. The spiking should begin early in the story to hook people in and maximise engagement. Using the storyboard, mark out where the spikes of emotion are likely to occur, so you can visualise the emotional ups of the viewing experience. Ideally, you want as many spikes as possible, as close together as possible.
  2. The story should grab attention early and should be simple and easy to follow throughout as people expect a story to follow predefined patterns from the past to the present to the future. The best way to grab the attention early is to create anticipation – try suspense (the expectation that something important is about to happen) and intrigue (a heightened state of fascination or curiosity). This will grab the audience’s attention early and drive them to want more information. This keeps them watching until you can release some spikes of emotion and make the movie memorable and shareable.


You can grab a copy here 👇

Amazon UK: Kindle Edition | Paperback

Amazon US: Kindle Edition | Paperback