If we’re any good at all we want our work to ‘go viral’.
That’s what we used to call ‘getting into the language’ or ‘word of mouth’.
Today it’s also known as ‘earned media’.
(There being 3 types of media: bought media, owned media, and earned media.)
Earned media is media we create for free: by getting people to use it in daily speech.
If we can do that we’ve created free media and magnified our budget many times.
Every time someone repeats it, it’s media we haven’t paid for.
How we do this is by creating something people want to repeat, something fun or useful.
There is a belief that the only way anything goes viral is in so-called ‘viral media’: YouTube, facebook, social media on the Internet.
But this isn’t true, every day 99% of what is put up on the Internet disappears.
What’s true is what’s always been true, things people love go viral.
If we want to learn how to do it let’s look at some of the expressions that have ‘gone viral’ and passed into everyday usage, take the following:
“Out of the frying pan into the fire”
“There’s no point closing the barn door after the horse has bolted”
“Every man for himself”
“Don’t put the cart before the horse”
“Half a loaf is better than none”
“Every dog has its day”
“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”
We can all agree those expressions went viral without the need for technology.
In fact those were written by a man who was born about the time America was being discovered, and died just before the Spanish Armada, before the Internet, before electricity, around the time of the first printing press.
His name was John Heywood and he was born in 1497 and died in 1580.
He wasn’t a famous playwright, as Shakespeare became, he was mainly a performer.
But he used to write his own simple plays to incorporate his singing, dancing, and juggling.
In Henry VIII’s court records he was listed as a “Synger” and paid 100 shillings a quarter.
The writing was just an excuse for the performance, so he kept it simple and catchy.
Simple and catchy is what ordinary people like, so his writing has stayed viral, stayed in the language for 500 years.
See if you can recognise these in their 1542 form:
“Haste maketh waste”
“Out of sight out of mind”
“Look ere ye leap”
“Two heads are better than one”
“Beggars should be no choosers”
“I know on which side my bread is buttered”
“One good turn asketh another”
“A penny for your thought”
“Rome was not built in one day”
“This hitteth the nail on the head”
“Better late than never”
“The more the merrier”
“You cannot see the wood for the trees”
“Wolde ye both eate your cake and have your cake?”
Maybe if we could stop our obsession with technology and complexity, we could learn to write stuff like that, stuff that catches on with ordinary people.
Stuff that goes viral, instead of stuff that disappears the moment it runs.