master formats for viral videos

Master Formats for Viral Videos

I’ve assembled a working list with the goal of creating a “master formats” list for viral videos.

I think for the master format as the prime ingredient to help spark an idea and turn it into your plan for a viral video hopeful. While you can’t promise someone you’ll create a viral video. You can assert that your making a contentious effort to create a compelling video within a social media network of choice in which it’s content is primed to be sharable.

In 1978, Donald Gunn, Leo Burnett Creative Director created a list of 12 Master Formats of Television Advertising. These were the base ideas that cataliyzed modern TV advertising. Classic formats like Testimonial and Ongoing Characters and Celebrities to Contrast with Competition and Benefit Causes Story.

The formats still hold true today.

Today with Facebook accounts and YouTube channels. The formula has changed. Now when viewers are compelled to share content, what they share reflects directly on their ego, personality and reputation. This drives content creators to adjust their vantage point and create new types of videos. Some of which are associated and leveraged by commercial brands subvertly, put out there by activists, or by pranksters just for the fun of it. Some are better than others for subliminal commercial purposes.

Here is my working list for the master formats for social media viral videos that I’ll revise over time.

Master formats for social media viral videos


These videos play to the desires of keyboard warriors who prefer watching to doing.

  • Vacation videos to cool destinations
  • Travel to exotic locations
  • Making beautiful food dishes in 60 seconds, just like the video show with it’s quick editing
  • Point of view (POV), Go Pro style sports videos taking people on advertures
  • Human or animal accomplishment


  • Pro life tips
  • Interesting and creative solutions to everyday nagging problems
  • Historical facts of signification consequences


Complex ideas and concepts made easy to understand by representing them abstractly and graphically with sound effects and animation.

  • Motion graphics that present dry information in a compelling way. Think Thought cafe as seen on YouTube.



Conspiracy theorists even have their own category for quasi-scientfic explanations for history or current events.

  • Ridicolous fun-fiction events that people know are fake, but it’s fun to share anyway for their bizarre factor.
  • Doom and end of days videos.
  • Bigfoot, aliens, ghosts caught on camera
  • Fantasy, lunatic fringe

Mainstream Media

Footage appropriated from the mainstream television culture.

  • Clips shared from mainstream media news sites or alternative media sources that are the steroids of journalism
  • Saturday night live clips and other popular media.


These videos are often found on popular YouTube channels that develop a following through subscriptions. Often these clips are copy n’ pasted into Facebook for social sharing.

  • Musical or artist performance
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Cult of personality
  • YouTube personality or entity that gains an audience can help propel videos into the viral category.
  • Testimonial

Human Condition

Raw video footage. The unexpected happening caught on video. I was tempted to call this one human perversions.

  • CCTV footage of accidents or something terrible happening
  • Activity-gone-wrong
  • Humiliation and pranks is the dark side of the human spirit that pranksters love capturing on video
  • America’s Funniest Home Video style clips of painful and surprising events.
  • Just for fun, entertainment factor.
  • Cute factor. Cat and dogs imagery always sparks the cuteness factor.


Augmented footage reworked to create something new.

  • Pop culture clips
  • Altered news channel clips, Bad Lip Reading
  • Human tragedy, mishaps
  • Behind the scene, unedited home videos


  • Truth perspectives
  • Politically charged videos.
  • Confrontation of political and popular figures.


  • Justice videos where wrongs are made right serendipitously.


by Alexander Morse

Alexander Morse is a digital designer and brand consultant at Morse Communication Design. He helps businesses communicate with design. His creative techniques and communication design skills were fostered through his agency-side experience working with a variety of clients from entertainment to retail. He is now focused on end-user, persona-driven interactive and conceptual design for consumer brands, non-profits, and clients whose message needs to be driven through impactful design.

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