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Why ‘A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self’ is a Viral Video Success

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Marketers can learn a number of lessons from the surprising success of “A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self.” Uploaded on July 5, 2012, by Jeremiah McDonald, the YouTube video currently has 5.8 million views as of this writing.

McDonald is an actor, filmmaker and associated artist who lives in Portland, Maine. Since 2006 he has produced a variety of short-form videos, including “Brush With The Past.” Uploaded on Dec. 11, 2006, this earlier version of “A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self” has 24,305 views.

Both videos were uploaded to McDonald’s Weeping Prophet Productions channel on YouTube.

So, why is his newest version such a viral video success while the five-and-a-half year old version was only a modest success? There are three key reasons: Better video editing, a self-explanatory title, and the growth of social media.

Better Video Editing

If marketers ever need to demonstrate to skeptics why better video editing is worth the investment, they should show “Brush With The Past” followed by “A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self.”

Not only have McDonald’s video editing skills gotten better in the past five-and-a-half years, so has the video editing software.

Back in December 2006, most video editing software was exclusive to video systems costing tens of thousands of dollars. Few people had access to these pricey tools, and the software that was available to content creators like McDonald had little hardware support from the computer and video industries. Today, all that has changed.

In July 2012, video editing software is more powerful, less expensive, and easier to use than ever. Some simple solutions are even becoming standard issue with new computer systems. You have a wide range of options.

For example, check out Avid Studio for iPad ($4.99). It distills the world’s leading film-editing technology into an easy-to-use app that enables you to edit video, audio, and photos at the speed of your creativity. Swiftly arrange your clips in the Storyboard, make precision edits using the Timeline, and add high-quality transitions, effects, and a soundtrack. Then share your movie directly to YouTube, Facebook, and more — or export your project to Avid Studio for the PC and continue editing with even more advanced tools.

Or, consider Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.0.3 ($299.99). Apple has built a completely new, faster, cleaner, and more intuitive digital video editing package.

A Self-Explanatory Title

The second key reason why McDonald’s newest version is such a viral video success is the self-explanatory title of “A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self.” By comparison, “Brush With The Past” is a clever headline that doesn’t seem to have worked as well.

Back on April 10, 2002, Nick Usborne wrote a column for ClickZ entitled, “How to Write a Clever Headline.” He said, “Most ‘clever’ headlines are written not to provide clarity but to celebrate the copywriter’s wit. That’s why they fail.”

That is still good advice today.

When you’re writing the title of a video, cleverness isn’t as effective as clarity. In fact, one can say clarity is the new cleverness. So writing a title that is self-explanatory gets you farther than writing a clever title that nobody can quite figure out what it is you’re alluding to.

Growth of Social Media

The third key reason why McDonald’s newest version is such a viral video success is the growth of social media during the past five-plus years.

He was interviewed by Deborah Netburn of the Los Angeles Times for a story entitled, “5-million-plus views for ‘A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self'.”

McDonald said, “How it went viral is largely a mystery to me. I uploaded it, posted it on Facebook, then went to work. To my knowledge it started to catch on when it was tweeted by my friend somegreybloke, and went from there.”

When “Brush With The Past” was uploaded back in December 2006, YouTube was getting 100,000 video views a day and MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the U.S.

Facebook didn’t become the most popular social networking site until April 2008. And Twitter, which had been created in March 2006, didn’t become the third-highest-ranking social networking site until January 2009.

Today, YouTube is getting more than 4 billion video views a day. And 500 years of YouTube video are watched every day on Facebook, and more than 700 YouTube videos are shared on Twitter each minute.

So, the growth of social media enables content creators like McDonald to turn fans into a social army that will help them re-broadcast their content out to a much larger audience.

In short, marketers can learn a number of lessons from the surprising success of “A Conversation With My 12 Year Old Self.”


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