Ten great word-of-mouth (WOM) films

I was thinking about the concept of the viral video. Aside from the fact that when people talk about viral they actually mean sprinkle pixie dust on a banal clip and make miracles happen, there is some great video content out there which as created genuine word-of-mouth. It isn’t actually a new phenomena as some of these clips will show that whilst the delivery mechanism has changed, the principles of making this kind of content hasn’t.

I have only included films that were made for a political or commercial reason, some are even orientated at business-to-business audiences.

In no particular order of merit:

Daisy was an iconic advert made for the campaign to elect Lyndon B Johnson as US president in 1964. The negative message and debate it caused gave Johnson a landslide victory against Barry Goldwater, with a mandate to roll out his great society changes.

Two decades later, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior got re-elected in their presidential campaign which has a much more positive feel to it – an aspirational film if ever there was one. You wouldn’t have thought of Reagonomics and the ‘Evil Empire’ quote watching this film. Reagan won 49 states, whilst Walter Mondale won just one state and the Washington DC area.

1984 also the debut of one of the most talked about adverts of all time. This ad made subsequent Superbowl ad breaks something to wait in anticipation for. The reality behind this video was different. Apple ran the ad in the end partly because the couldn’t get rid of the ad space that they had previously booked.

The ad tapped into a zeitgeist, Ridley Scott was an ‘on-fire’ director, particularly after Blade Runner and the cold war together with right wing governments in the US and Europe and domestic terrorism made the totalitarian future seem frighteningly possible. The advert marked the end of the era when IBM had a hammerlock on computing. Ironically it wasn’t the Macintosh which led us into a new period of computing freedom, but Microsoft who were much worse than IBM (lampooned in the video). Paul Graham’s recent post on the state of Yahoo! puts it really well:

Another big factor was the fear of Microsoft. If anyone at Yahoo considered the idea that they should be a technology company, the next thought would have been that Microsoft would crush them.

It’s hard for anyone much younger than me to understand the fear Microsoft still inspired in 1995. Imagine a company with several times the power Google has now, but way meaner. It was perfectly reasonable to be afraid of them. Yahoo watched them crush the first hot Internet company, Netscape. It was reasonable to worry that if they tried to be the next Netscape, they’d suffer the same fate. How were they to know that Netscape would turn out to be Microsoft’s last victim?

Whilst Microsoft is still powerful and mean as hell when it wants to be, this is nothing like how it conducted itself prior to the 1998 anti-trust trial. They were the Mongol hordes of the IT sector. There were only two people I knew of including me on my course that had a Mac computer during my time at college, now things couldn’t be more different and even business is starting to drag itself into the 20th century.

This is part one of a series of deposition videos that Bill Gates recorded for the antitrust trial.

It was also the video that saw Microsoft tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion. In minutes, the hard work on building Bill Gates’ reputation put in by Pam Edstrom (first as Microsoft’s director of PR and then as a senior executive at Waggener Edstrom) was eviscerated. This was when the fear stopped.

Meanwhile, Apple had been wandering in the wilderness. I can say from personal experience that it was not a fun time to own an Apple computer. Apple had to buy itself enough time to pick itself back up off the floor so a newly returned Steve Jobs worked with TBWA\Chiat\Day on the Think Different campaign in 1997. Part of this was about making sure that the battered and bruised Apple customer base hung on just a little bit longer.

One set of films that was a constant topic of discussion for me and my friends during the late 80s and early 90s was the Guinness adverts featuring Rutger Hauer. These were popular partly due to the ongoing popularity of the Blade Runner film and the fact that Situationist literature was a popular source of inspiration for wide swathes of the cultural elite from Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson to film directors running around Soho at the time.

There were a number of them but I have just featured my favourite. What was interesting was the polarising nature of them at the time. Your traditional Guinness drinker just thought that they were a bit weird, whilst I loved them.

At the dawn of commercial television programmes were sponsored; this is where soap operas got their name from. Nescafé went back into this heritage of sponsored drama to produce 90 second episodes. It shook up the general public and the story was followed avidly with much speculation about where the plot was going. Now Anthony Head is more famous as the character Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The first video I can really remember of thinking of as an internet phenomenon was the John West salmon fisherman versus the grizzly bear. Really simple slapstick humour but really memorable.

The Blair Witch Project shook up marketing. A film cost 22,000 USD to make, ended up grossing almost a quarter billion USD at the cinema box office. The film drew marketers attention to the power of the internet if correctly harnessed. The film tapped into the fake reality vein used by the mondo documentaries and the European cannibal documentaries in the 1960s and 70s but you can’t argue with its success.

Some of the best work in this space is done by the Viral Factory. I decided to showcase their work with the Ford Motor Company for the Ford Ka repositioning it as a car that is suitable for men too. You can find more of their work here.

What videos would you have included? Feel free to share in the comments box or write a post and link back so I can find it.