Cute puppies and going viral in information age

By Greg Dardis / Guest Editorial

When Purina released its “Puppyhood” video in May, the three-minute spot racked up 4 million views in two weeks. In it, a 30-something, moustache-sporting hipster adopts a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and bonds with his new companion on the couch.

Their lighthearted exchanges and the puppy’s big, soulful eyes generated incredible buzz, and a terrific return on Purina’s investment with BuzzFeed, who created the video to introduce Purina’s new website. Viewers couldn’t help but play armchair marketer, attempting to analyze what it was about the seemingly simple video that went viral.

The answer, of course, rests in Purina’s appeal to emotion. The more intense the reaction provoked by a video, the better it plays. In this case, “Puppyhood” elicited a wave of positive emotions. Tech company Unruly identified them in a survey: warmth (58 percent of respondents), happiness (56 percent), hilarity (31 percent) and surprise (10 percent).

But when you dig deeper into research on the inner workings of viral content, you learn it’s not just about tugging on heartstrings through puppies, toddlers or rainbows – or, better yet, a toddler holding a puppy standing in front of a rainbow. Even the cutest YouTube hits have a more serious allure: the sense of being in the know.

In the case of “Puppyhood,” Unruly determined, viewers shared the commercial because they sought kudos. They wanted to be the “cool-hunter,” the first to tip off their friends. They wanted to be an authority, demonstrating their ample knowledge. They wanted to share a social utility, something that could be useful or beneficial to friends. And they recognized the flicker of the zeitgeist, that Purina’s ad had captured a current trend or a cultural moment in time. They saw in the video a conversation starter, satisfying the desire to start an online conversation.

In short, they liked and tweeted and commented because they wanted to appear smart.

Whether it’s lending a book or sharing a TED video, the pursuit of knowledge is a powerful force. When you capitalize on it, you can enhance all your business dealings – delivering a more memorable presentation, networking more effectively or securing your next contract.

To begin, set up a system to quickly and easily obtain useful information. Create a Google Alert for your industry, your company and your CEO. This will keep you in the know. It’s handy when you bump into that head honcho in the elevator and can mention her quote in Crain’s or his presence at last weekend’s juvenile diabetes fundraiser.

Sign up for an e-newsletter that brings useful information right to your inbox, and consider other channels for interesting content: the list of the most viewed articles on the New York Times’ website; a handful of germane blogs, such as The Wall Street Journal’s “At Work” and “The Experts”; round-ups of the biggest headlines like CBS This Morning’s 90-second “Eye Opener”; even the top 10 books on Amazon.

Other times you’ll want to put on your reporter’s cap and do some of your own investigating. Ask someone in HR for information on the company that could be illuminating (but not threatening). What’s the average number of years an employee has worked here? Who’s been here the longest? What percentage of the workforce is female? What’s the average commute? When’s the last time a new hire was made in that department?

Once you’ve secured some information, find meaningful ways to pass it on. A personal email that says, “Thought this Wall Street Journal article would interest you,” is a nice way to keep in touch. It can bring you to someone’s mind at just the right moment.

Sharing useful industry information can also position you as a thought leader. Work it into a meeting or a business lunch. Send an occasional email to colleagues (and cc your supervisor) to pass along an intriguing article. Provide a brief summary of the article, list a few key points and then suggest a concrete idea for how it could be applied at your company, in your department or to a specific project. That’s the kind of email that could get forwarded right up the chain of command – the kind that can get you noticed.

Weaving a few statistics into a presentation is another way to present material that gets passed on. There’s something satisfying about black-and-white numbers that makes us feel as if we have a solid handle on an issue.

With these tactics, you can harness the power of the most popular YouTube puppy – and enjoy surprising results.




Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit