You can’t plan to create a viral video. Be authentic. These are two axioms I often hear about fostering success in social media marketing.

Now Jonathan Post, a visual effects company based in Sao Paolo Brazil has created its own viral video that seems to prove one and disprove the other. When CEO Luis Carone decided to create a video that appeared to demonstrate a revolutionary technology for 3D TV, he had no idea that it would collect 2 million hits in two days and 5 million hits in a month. But he definitely wasn’t trying to be authentic either.

Brian Jackson, journalist
Brian Jackson

In the viral video, titled “3D No glasses by Jonathan Post” a bearded man with a French accent blinks his eyes a lot. It doesn’t sound like exciting material, but what intrigued YouTube viewers around the world was the technology it purported to demonstrate.

Putting small diodes on each temple, the actor in the video looked at a screen and flicked on a device he held in his hand.

Immediately, his eyes fluttered to life at an inhuman rate – as though they were matching the refresh rate of the TV he was watching. This, the video falsely claimed, was a new method for viewing 3D TV.

“I thought it was funny and I didn’t know that people would actually believe it,” Carone says. “I thought that when people saw it, they wouldn’t think it was the next step for 3D TV.”

But some people did buy it. It generated several articles in technology media, although many of them took a skeptical tone, and soon enough Carone’s inbox was flooded with media requests from CNN, CBC, BBC, and Wired magazine. It also spawned many parody videos on YouTube.

Surprised by his success, the CEO wasn’t sure of the next step. But he decided to keep the lid on the nature of the video’s authenticity for at least a little while, and watch the number of hits grow.

“We had this effect that could trick even people that work with special effects,” he says.

But secrets are hard to keep and after a month of keeping the Internet guessing, Carone decided to let the cat out of the bag. At the behest of Brazilian TV show Fantastico, Jonathan Post created a follow-up video that demonstrated how they achieved the effect. They also released the video to their YouTube channel Feb. 20, and it received almost 43,000 hits as of Feb. 23.

What’s impressive is that the skill and effort that went into creating the special, eye-blinking effect are almost as impressive as a game-changing 3D viewing technology. Jonathan Post has developed a technique that allows them to map a human face with a 3D mask and apply effects to that mask. Using this, they can superimpose a digital face on actors, even if they are moving around on camera.

Carone hopes the attention drawn by his effect will now translate into sales. “We’ve created a pipeline to work with the human face,” he says. “We’re looking into doing things like post-production makeup.”

After taking three months to create the original viral video, Carone says they’ve now honed the technique and were able to do another video featuring the rapid eye-blinking in just one week. But don’t ask him how to make another 5 million-hit video.

“If I tried to make another video as popular as this one, I wouldn’t know how to do it,” he says.

So it goes to show that you really can’t plan to make a viral video, they tend to occur by accident. But we already knew that was true.

What’s new here is that misleading your audience won’t always lead to a negative backlash. The lesson to be learned from Jonathan Post’s experiment is that if you do promise a big payoff to your audience that you can’t really deliver, you’d better have a follow-up plan that includes something just as interesting.

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