Thursday, August 02, 2012

Isaiah Mustafa is a freak ... and that's why you want to smell like him

Isaiah Mustafa, the star of Old Spice's The Man You Could Smell Like videos, is not a normal man. His uniqueness (his freakishness) sets him apart and that is what Jonah Sachs argues has made his videos go viral in his article for Fast Company How to Build Positive Marketing Stories That Work.

Viral videos, according to Sachs, are the result of 3 criteria being met - each of which he traces back (perhaps too far) to our evolution out of Africa.  Viral videos must contain freaks - something that sets them apart from the norm.  We are trained to notice freaks and ignore everything normal.  If you paid attention to every single person that walks down the street, you'd never be able to move anywhere; but our evolutionary instinct is to notice the abnormal - someone running down the street screaming. 

But being a freak is not enough.  We must also be able to relate that to something understandable - the freaks must in a way be familiar.  Isaiah Mustafa may be a freak, but he is still a man and in that way we can relate to him.  His uniqueness registers to us rather than confuses us. 

But familiar freaks is not enough still for a video (or successful marketing campaign) to go viral.  The last ingredient needed is that the character must be a cheat.  He must upset our normal understanding of the world in a way that we feel very distinctly.  When Isaiah Mustafa tells us he's on a horse instead of his boat, he is cheating us (or at least the normal world we expect to see), and now we're hooked.

Jonah Sachs theory is a reach and there is not likely an evolutionary formula to a successful viral video, but it is interesting to use his lens to see how those elements pop up in the viral videos we've remembered.

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