The Viral Effect

When it comes to campaigns for social change, videos can be a powerful way of representing your cause. Yet every day, over 200,000 videos are uploaded to YouTube. 24 hours of footage is uploaded each minute. How do you make a video that is compelling, engaging, and shareable–one that stands out from the crowd?

The video featured above comes from, an organization working on the premise that girls living in poverty are uniquely capable of creating a better future. According to’s research, when a young woman receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later, has less children, and earns more money. In other words, she has the opportunity to raise the standard of living for herself and her entire family.

The video above has over 666,000 views on YouTube. And it isn’t even a 55 second video of a cat playing a keyboard. In this post, we’ll explore how created this viral campaign and how you can replicate their success.

What makes the video effective and why did it go viral?

Powerful visuals. As a species, we remember 85 or 90 percent of what we see, but less than 15 percent of what we hear. Interestingly, The Girl Effect video is almost entirely text. So why is it effective? The video form enables the text to come to life and give the story emotional depth that an essay on poverty cannot. The phrases “it’s not money,” and “it’s not science” appear and then are crossed out, furthering the point that science and money are not what’s needed to heal our world. We don’t just read that “village, food, peace, lower HIV, healthier babies, education, commerce, sanitation, and stability” are the results of educating girls. In the video, those words pile on top of each other and in doing so give the impression that one small act (educating girls) can have an avalanche effect in all those other areas. In this way, the Girl Effect video utilizes words to show, not tell.

Engaging, gripping music. If you try watching this video without audio, you’ll notice that it is much less effective. The overall tone of the music is serious and dramatic. The emotional arc of the video is enhanced by the music’s crescendos and decrescendos.

A clear, simple, yet powerful message that is easy to follow and generalizable. It can be hard to look at a large issue like poverty or lack of education and feel like you can have any impact; but when you remember that you have the power to affect one life in one, measurable way, the illusion of helplessness dissipates and you feel inspired to make a difference. The Girl Effect video tells a story of a girl in a developing country who is given an education and a loan to buy a cow. She is then able to sell the milk to earn more money, buys a herd, and pretty soon is respected by the village and in turn earns more respect for all women in the village. The video ends by telling us: “invest in a girl and she will do the rest.” We’re not asked to save the world or cure cancer, we’re just asked to invest in a single girl.

How can you replicate it?

Recognize that you only have a few seconds to grab attention. As Dan Heath writes about the Girl Effect, “This is a textbook sticky idea. … It starts with a schema violation (‘So what else is new?’). Then there’s a curiosity gap: ‘What if there was an unexpected solution… Would you even know it if you saw it?’ Then, there’s the surprise: ‘A girl.’ The cumulative effect of these elements is critical: They’ve got our attention. We’re on the hook.”  Those initial moments that open the video are critical in engaging the viewer; and keeping the pace up is important so that they don’t lose interest.

Focus on a central story that the viewer can latch onto right away. This “attention-grabbing” component is critical: because no matter how important your cause, or how moving your story, no cause can be promoted if people don’t take the time to learn about it.  A great story can help you connect with and move your audience, and make your material more memorable.The power of storytelling cannot be over-emphasized.

Ask yourself: would you send the video you’re making along? What makes a video go viral?  It’s pretty simple: people watch your video, and like it enough to send it to friends. Whether it makes you laugh, cry, or feel nostalgic, a video has to affect the viewer to make it share-worthy. also asks viewers to share the video, saying “The Girl Effect can’t happen without you. Please share this video.” While an ask alone won’t make your video go viral, letting people know that they can easily help by just sending out the link is an excellent way to promote sharing.

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  • ET

    It also helps if your video is promoted by the Nike Foundation and their PR empire. Making a video go viral is only partly about its own quality. The other part is about having access to the right people who would “discover” it and tell others about it. The “patient zeros” of the viral infection. Waiting for your video to be discovered on its own is like having a fund-raising strategy that is all about buying lottery tickets and crossing your fingers.