Ok, I feel like I know you all well enough to admit something: one of my big pet peeves is the notion of the "viral" video. What's my issue? Well, two specifically:
1. The idea that viral videos are cheap, that you can produce them for $2500 and get 1,000,000 hits. There's this notion that some college kid in his (or her) basement is pumping out viral videos for the price of a case of beer. Great, I'd like to meet them. The most successful "viral" videos are usually fully produced pieces that cost $20,000 or more to make (or get donated).
Occasionally, you catch lightening in a bottle (if you're Will Farrell, for example), but as a general rule, the best viral videos aren't necessarily cheaper than a televised video. The internet has lowered the cost to entry -- you don't have to pay to air your video anymore -- but your audience isn't captive either, so you better give them a sugar coating. Which leads to....
2. You can't make a "viral" video. You can make a good video, promote it, push it out into the world, and hope it goes viral. But if you try too hard (or are caught trying too hard), then forget it. Someone asked me about a guarantee that their video would go viral -- I said there is no such thing. Another time a client wanted to promote their pet issue, they wanted a viral video, something that would get attention, how about an interview with a sitting US Senator on the subject...? I guessed they'd get about 500 hits, if they were lucky.
This video does as good a job of breaking down the elements that make a video go viral. It's longish (close to 10 minutes) but worth watching when you get some time. The two elements the interviewee highlights are 1) leave room for a conversation -- is it real, what's going, did it happen, how'd they do that, and 2) a sense of whimsy or fun. Essentially, you have to engage your audience, but have fun doing it.
There are some other usual tidbits in there, so if you're interested in viral video (and if you're a political or any other type of campaign, you should be interested) then go watch.
And here's a link to Visible Measures' top 10 viral videos of the week, which is useful for inspiration as well as seeing what you're up against out there.
As you watch the videos on the list, just remember what the immortal David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap said: "There's such a fine line between stupid and clever."