Don’t Be Viral, Be Like Ok Go

by Peter Attia on March 1, 2012

OK Go Band

It happens every now and then. You go into work like normal and go about your morning routine, take a quick look at the rankings for a few terms you’ve been working on, etc. Eventually you end up on your analytics page and stop for a second…

“Where did that huge spike of traffic come from?.. Why is it still growing?.. What’s going on? This isn’t supposed to happen!”

This is the great side effect of having something go viral. You’re getting a huge influx of visits, links, and sales. Life couldn’t be better! Then several days later your traffic has started to settle down and go back to normal. You realize the whole thing was short lived and you get all sad faced.

This is the point when most people try to recreate the effect. You did it once, surely you can do it again? The problem is virality is usually accidental. It’s a lot harder to make an accident happen on purpose than you’d think.


In 1998 the alternative rock band OK Go formed in Chicago Illinois. They went on to become the house band for the weekly radio program This American Life. In 2003 they released their first single “Get Over it” which did well in the UK, but quickly became forgotten about in the US. Then in 2005 they exploded! They went on to become a band that everyone knows. So what happened in 2005?

In 2005 OK Go made a homemade video in their backyard to the song “A Million Ways”. It was a low budget video that was only
intended to be seen by friends of the band. This well choreographed dance ended up all over the internet, eventually gaining air-time on Fuse. Meanwhile, there was another internet sensation brewing…


YouTube was founded by three previous employees of Paypal, Chad HurleySteve Chen, and Jawed Karim. They began as a small venture funded start-up headquartered above a pizza shop in San Mateo, California. During the explosion of the OK Go video, YouTube was still in beta; making a full launch in November of 2005, however by July of 2006 they had 100 million page views per day with 65,000 videos being uploaded daily.

In October 2006, Google announced their acquirement of YouTube. They have since then become the most viewed video site on the web with about 800 million unique users visiting each month. YouTube has about 8 years worth of video published on a daily basis… think about that number for a second.

Just for fun: The first video uploaded to YouTube: Posted by co-founder Jawed Karim.


Before “A Million Ways” OK Go had made a video for their hit single “Get Over It”. They had a full production crew for this video and although they did gain popularity from it, it was mainly due to the song, not their horribly awkward video.

Seeing how much popularity they gained out of creating a nearly $0 cost video, they went on to try and top it. This time they had the power of YouTube to back them up. On July 31st of 2006 OK Go’s video “Here It Goes Again” debuted on YouTube.

This video spread like wildfire all over the internet gaining 52 million views on YouTube alone. The band gained many awards from their video, including a Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video in 2007.

How is this different than making a viral video?

After their treadmill video, OK Go gained something much more powerful than virality, they now had self generated hype. A big part of releasing any new product is stirring some buzz. This creates chatter amongst online communities and makes people eager to get their hands on whatever it is you have. A good example of this is Apple products. People generate so much buzz about their future products and expectations far before any official announcements are made.

OK Go’s videos are very different than random viral videos that a company may generate. They’re consistent. Everyone knows OK Go is going to release another music video that’s going to be incredible. When you have random viral videos, no one is waiting for your next video.

OK Go’s videos are strictly music videos for their hit songs and they take that one step further by making these videos for their album releases. So now we have the hype generated by anticipation of their new videos, the virality they gain with each video released; and since their video’s directly correlate to their album releases, they get a gigantic boom in record sales. Everything they’re doing propels their next step.

To give you an idea of how dedicated they are to making sure every video is great, the video above took somewhere around 64 takes before it properly functioned.

Note: For more information on generating hype, I suggest Sam Crocker’s case study on creating prelaunch buzz.

But their a band, that’s different

ok cupid blogNot true, you just have to find the right avenue. For example, OK Cupid’s blog does extraordinary things with their data. They take all of their stored information from their online dating service and turn them into incredible visualizations that attract both their target clientele and otherwise. Their content is consistently good and self propelling (the more sign ups they get, the more data they get), which makes it no surprise that they’re killing the online dating niche.

Blizzard Entertainment LogoBlizzard Entertainment is another great example. I’ve never seen a company generate so much hype without even trying. Blizzard is notorious for taking frustratingly long to create their next game. Consistently teasing their fan base with more and more information the closer their games get to release.

Every game company does this. The difference with Blizzard, is that they do it over a span of 6-10 years. By the end, their fans are nearly biting off their own lips in eagerness of getting ahold of their next product. The reason they’re able to pull this off, is because every one of their games has been a best seller. They’re not taking ten years to build up hype, they’re taking ten years to make sure they have a great game. The hype is just how they crowd control their lengthy production time.

Sugru logoLastly, Sugru. This company was a struggling start up that nearly bottomed out. They sell an air cured rubber like material that you can bend and mold any which way. You can use this compound to create anything from more ergonomic handles for silverware, to fixing a leaky hole in your boot. The best thing they have going for them is that their product is really “personal”. It’s something that’s useful in different ways to different people. They’ve handled this in an amazing way, by showing all the ways you could use Sugru that would benefit mainly you. Like personalizing the toes of your converses!

Note: If you’re looking for some inspiration, I definitely recommend reading Sugru’s story on how they came to be.

What should I be doing?

This is going to be different for everyone, but you need to figure out more than just getting someone to click your checkout button. You need to maintain efficiency, while keeping your community happy and eager. The best position you could be in, is where you have to worry more about your conversion rate than the number of visits to your site.

  • First and formost, be consistent: people don’t like getting something they didn’t expect. If you routinely put out good content, don’t put up something quick and sloppy, because you’re out of time.

  • Find a way to leverage something you already have or own to create new content. Not only is this more efficient, but it can become self propelling to where it takes less effort to maintain.

  • Figure out how to tie that new creation not just to your checkout box, but back to more of that great content. By creating this loop, if someone doesn’t end up at the shopping cart the first time, they have the potential to end up there the second. At the very least, they’ll remember you and not just the color of your checkout button.

I know getting a sale is everyones top priority in their marketing campaign, and it should be. However, you need to make sure that your fan base is happy with you. If your fan base is happy, anything you throw at your campaign will have a giant slingshot behind it. It also makes them hard to anger, giving you leeway with any mistakes you may make.

And on that note, I’ll leave you guys with my absolute favorite OK Go video!

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