Content Marketing

Creating Viral Content: How Michael Phelps and UA Won Online

We are often asked by clients to help them create marketing content that will go viral. I wish we had the secret answer to share for creating viral content, but the reality is that a true viral hit cannot be manufactured on demand. That being said, there is a great deal to learn from existing viral hits!

For example, this Under Armour commercial starring Michael Phelps just passed 10 million views and is climbing fast following his incredible performance in Rio. Created by Droga5, this powerful ad is not only going viral, but it also won critical acclaim, recently having been awarded the Film Craft Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions festival.

So what can Under Armour Rule Yourself teach us about creating viral content? It certainly helps that the star of the commercial was absolutely incredible at Rio! But even if you don’t have the budget to hire the likes of Michael Phelps, Adweek uncovered some very powerful insights behind the popularity of this video. These insights can help us formulate some valuable guideposts on the track to winning content gold and in fact are especially relevant when thinking about healthcare content.

Here are three key strategies for creating viral content:

1). Aim For Genuine Inspiration
It turns out that the number one factor that made people respond to this video, especially the millennials who were watching – was that it provided inspiration. Devra Prywes, VP, marketing and insight at Unruly notes that “something we’ve learned from all of the ads we tested if we look at different demographics and the emotions that are most resonant to them, for millennials—especially male millennials—inspiration is one of the top emotions. If that is present at all in an ad, they tend to experience it.”

2). Be Raw and Authentic
In addition to providing inspiration and amazement, the UA video with Phelps portrays a gritty behind the scenes look at his intense training regimen. Harry Román-Torres, Droga5 co-head of strategy, commented on the importance of authenticity in making the ad successful. “I think people connect with this film because it paints hard work and sacrifice with beautiful strokes, but does so in a way that is raw and real about what it takes to win.” Certainly the healthcare space has its share of intense behind the scenes moments that can be crafted into something truly inspiring and authentic.

3). Reveal Something New and Undiscovered
While everyone understands that Olympic athletes endure incredible training routines, this short ad conveys the depth and intensity of Phelps’s training in truly original and interesting fashion. If you want your ad to go viral, you must not only inspire people, and be authentic, but you must also take them to new and undiscovered places. It is this level of detail and surprise that makes this ad so compelling and interesting. Creating intensity and interest is essential for creating viral content. As David Ogilvy noted, “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

So, if – like me – you’re ready to go buy some Under Armour products, here is the link to their online outlet store! If you’re also ready to begin creating viral content, then be sure to relentlessly practice these three essential elements – Aim For Genuine Inspiration, Be Raw and Authentic, and Reveal Something New and Undiscovered. And if you can’t quite see the end, please let us know.

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Jim Walker

Jim Walker

Jim Walker is Director, Marketing Strategy at Cadient, a Cognizant Company. Jim provides innovative marketing insights for a wide range of clients, as well as leading Cadient’s content marketing strategy. He is particularly interested in helping brand teams effectively leverage their digital content. He can be reached at
Jim Walker

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