Early on Monday, January 30th, I was looking on Facebook and a ton of my KU grad friends were sharing a video called “We Are Mizzou.” After watching 45 seconds of the video, I actually thought the video was made by Kansas kids dressed up in Mizzou gear making fun of Missouri.
I’m emphasizing the timing as it is definitely one of the most essential parts of this story (and to most ‘viral’ content). It’s also important to note that the “We Are Mizzou” video was uploaded on Friday, January 27th, but didn’t really go viral until sometime Sunday night.
That same morning I started an email conversation with my good friend Jake Hills. He sent me a note titled Million Dollar YouTube: “I was talking to some guys around here and we threw around the idea of making a spoof of that Mizzou video. Possible lyrics include: ‘We finished third in the Big 12, gonna finish third in the SEC,’ etc. Think ‘I’m on a boat.’ You in?”
Jake wanted to make a response music video but, being an attorney, he didn’t understand how long it would actually take to make a response rap video, let alone one that didn’t make us look just as ridiculous as the original.
I was pretty hesitant to move forward with anything, but after an hour of writing and sending ideas back and forth we realized that we didn’t need to write a response song. We could buy some jerseys, find a park bench and set up two cameras with an iPad as a teleprompter and shoot it in 45 minutes before work.
And that’s exactly what we did (though we did almost cancel everything when we found out that the jerseys were $75.00, and once more when our scouted bench was occupied by a sleeping vagabond). With Jake on board as an actor, we just needed one more person. Then Spencer Bergstrand (another Barkley partner) volunteered, and we were ready to go.
The video took around three hours to edit from front to back, which seems fast, but we were losing valuable time every extra second it took. It was now Tuesday afternoon, and the KU vs. MU game was that Saturday. Someone was going to respond sooner than later.
I was put on edge even more when I got a call from my buddy at Second City out in LA telling me about their plans to make a response video. When he started the conversation, “Guess what I am doing, right now?” my heart sank. He explained they were still planning their video and I informed him of what I was about to upload in half an hour.
We think our next step was crucial to the success of our response video: we posted a picture on Facebook (via Instagram) of us on a bench in our jerseys with the caption, “Something is about to go down.”
This started a buzz that really helped the initial content push. The update got 32 “likes” and was shared by a ton of people (most of whom had this to say about it, “Oh god. Ooooh god. Idontlikeitidontlikeitidontlikeit.”).
I nervously exported the video and sent a hidden link to Jake and Spencer. We had a rule that if one of us thought it wasn’t funny we would pull the plug on the whole thing. We knew that—almost as important as the timing—we had to be clever in the video. We had already created a frenzy of our friends telling us not to do it, because they thought we were going to actually rap.
Three minutes after I sent it out, Spencer and Jake both sent emails giving the go ahead. We uploaded it to YouTube with all of the same tags and almost an identical description and title as the “We Are Mizzou” video, knowing that would help its search results when people were looking for the other video.
Next we all posted it to Facebook and tweeted about it, and from there it took off totally organically. A lot of people were already talking about it on Facebook from the picture we shared, and so were their friends. We broke the Youtube counter at 305 views, but it wasn’t until local sports radio talk show host Nick Wright was interviewing the Mizzou guys that day on his 5:00 show that things started getting crazy. After Nick Wright tweeted about it, tons of people started tweeting the link, including former KU basketball star Mario Chalmers to his 468,000 followers.
By the end of the first 24 hours we reached 100,000 views and had close to doubled that by the time the game rolled around that weekend. We were contacted by ESPN Gameday and CBS College Hoops to get the rights to play the video, but ultimately didn’t get played because the University of Missouri pulled the plug on the rights to their video.
Ultimately the keys to creating an organically viral video were an equal balance between quality, timing, and having a lot of friends that went to KU. If we had spent more time editing it, someone else would have beat us to the upload, but it probably would have been a lot funnier. It was important that we sacrificed a little on the production for timing, though.
Another very important aspect was that we didn’t have to get approval from anyone to upload it. It didn’t spend 24 hours in the editing limbo land between writers, editors, and creative higher-ups, and if it had, it would have missed 100,000 views.
Finally, we didn’t monetize the video at all. Had we gotten selfish and placed a pre-roll ad or overlay ads on the video, we would have lost many viewers and probably had the video taken down by the University for licensing reasons. The video was purely for fun, and it was a combination of all of these aspects working together that made the video a success.
That, and Bill Self was actually the director.