What is a viral video worth?

I’m a terrible salesman. I just wrote a video script for a startup that if properly executed would go viral and make the business a screaming success. But the script will just sit in the cloud, like lonely electrons.

I met an earnest guy who’s invested everything in a new product. He’s a tradesman with a new widget. Gave up his job, traveled to China, found a manufacturer, financed the production and has just received the first shipment. Now he has to sell it.

I went and gave him some free advice. Asked him what his marketing plans were; gave him some suggestions, helped him a bit with WordPress and went away. He had a number of plans which all involved using people who were happy to work for $50 a month. Except attending a New Homes Expo, which costs $3.5K for a 3m x 3m shell. Nonetheless; that should pay back; it’s a good product concept and he should sell enough at the show to cover the cost.

So I went home and I thought about his product’s positioning and some of the things he’d said to me and it all coalesced into an idea for a video. I spent a couple of hours thinking about it; piecing together the visual imagery and the elements of the story. And then I wrote the script.

No-one knows the recipe for a viral video. The biggest companies in the world don’t know it; the best ad agencies in the world don’t know it. But I’m as confident as I can be that if the ad I wrote was produced by a competent team, it would go viral and my man’s product would achieve international awareness pretty much overnight.

I sent him an email and we had a phone conversation in which I offered to show him the script and not charge him anything unless he went ahead and used the idea. In which case, I said, you can pay me $1000. If you don’t have the thousand bucks, no problem, offer me some commission on future sales over and above a certain level.

He declined. ‘$1000 is more than I’m comfortable paying’, he said. ‘Did it take you a long time to write it?’ ‘No, not at all’, I said. And we talked a bit more and he said he’d think about it, but he had a writer friend who would do the script for nothing.

I realised afterwards that as a tradesperson he thinks about value in terms of an hourly rate. In which case, $1000 is hard to swallow. On the other hand, he’s quite prepared to pay someone $3,500 for an empty 3m x 3m booth. Did it take them a long time to make it?