Why This Story Should Not Go Viral

A quest by viral savants the Harmon Brothers to start a viral university

Ever hear of the Harmon Brothers? They're an agency based in Provo, Utah, who claim to have made the most viral ads in internet history. Indeed, 20 of their social media spots are now legend and have driven over 1 billion views and "$300 million in sales."

You might not know their names, but you most certainly know their work. They're behind this!

And this.

And this—a piece we're especially thankful for every time we drop a dump from our cavernous bowels. (And yes. It really works.) 

With all that behind them, the Harmon Brothers decided to start Harmon Brothers University, an online course that promises "anyone can create viral ads."

The first course offered, "Write Ads That Sell," lasts three whole weeks. It includes 24 videos and three workbooks, so you know they're not messing around. Students will be asked to write their own scripts and templates, accompanied by scripts from the Harmon Brothers' own campaigns and behind-the-scenes details. 

One-on-one personal coaching is included.

"Every great business has a story. We're going to teach our students all our secrets of how to create ads that sell products and build a brand," vows chief creative officer Daniel Harmon. "Unlike other online professional training courses, Harmon Brothers University features our celebrated comedic style and storytelling chops. Our motto while creating this course has been, 'Hold nothing back'".

Smell bullshit? That's because you need Poo-Pourri. But to tide you over while clicking "Buy," get a whiff of the Q&A we did with Daniel Harmon himself.

Muse: Who are you targeting with this university?
Daniel Harmon: Harmon Brothers University is a one-of-a-kind resource for entrepreneurs, innovators and business owners, the same people who reach out to us to enlist our help in creating great campaigns. We're already seeing interest from people in those roles, and also marketing and advertising professionals, as well as people in film production.

What made you decide to start it? IS THIS A VIRAL PLAY?
Almost every day, companies approach us and ask Harmon Brothers to do ads for them. We can't possibly service everyone; there's just too much demand in the market for our style of ad—one that brands and sells at the same time. We are trying to provide usable tools for businesses that can't afford a big campaign, but still want to make a splash with their ads and get their story out there.

Heh. Splash. Carry on.
We are teaching our students to make their videos good enough that they don't have to be viral. We teach them to make an ad that sells. If the ad converts viewers into customers, it's much more sustainable for consistent growth, which is what they are looking for when they come to us for help. 

Your first course is called "Write Ads That Sell." How do you define techniques that effectively sell a product or service when they're all often so different?
All of our ads follow a similar structure and formula, even when the product or brand is very different. We focus on time-tested sales techniques that we've applied to online marketing. Harmon Brothers University teaches universal principles that can then be tailored to fit the each individual project.

What three things does an ad need to achieve "viral" status?
While many of our ads have gone viral, that's not our strategy. We don't plan on that happening. It's just the icing on the cake. We are focused on creating an ad that sells long-term. If you can spend $1 in advertising and you know you get back $1.50 in revenue, then you have a formula where the advertising funds itself, and you will get millions of views without ever going viral. 

What would you say to people who argue that viral advertising is alchemy at best?
Going viral is like catching lightning in a bottle. It's extremely hard to do, and equally shocking when you do it. Almost all "viral" ads or videos you see out there actually have some sort of a very smart distribution push behind them, either through PR or ad buys, or both. 

Yes, people are sharing the ad, but most of the success you see is driven much more by ad spend and influencers than meets the eye.

Can you tell us the story about creating your first "viral" ad? What inspired you, and how did you realize you were onto something you should run with?
Our first viral ad was actually the original Poopourri "Girls Don't Poop" video. We were running ads on different edits of the video with A/B dark tests, and somehow a reporter from Huffington Post got a hold of the link to one of our unlisted versions and shared it in an article. So we were forced to make that version public, and the sharing really took off. 

It had a million views in about a week, and sales were through the roof. They couldn't keep up with the demand, and we sold them out. But again, even with all that virality and sharing, we were focused on the sales, and we were driving most of the views with targeted ad buys. The video now has well over 50 million views across all versions—on Facebook and YouTube—and has driven tens of millions in sales.

What don't we already know that you'd really, really like us to?
That anyone can make an ad that sells if they put in the work to hone the skill and follow the right formula. Our course is teaching all the tricks we have for them to shortcut their learning in a big way.

Suggest a title for this article that you think would send it viral.
Why This Story Should Not Go Viral.

Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is the European markets editor at Muse by Clio. She also writes about gaming and fashion, and whatever else she's interested in, really. She's based in Paris and North Italy, so if you're local, say hi. She might eat all your food.

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