In the to-the-victor-the-spoils arena of online video, it can be tempting to see the attention-grabbing success of a particular concept as offering handy guide to making waves with your own YouTube content.

Just take one viral hit, mix in a few subtle amendments so as not to tread too close to the original, garnish with a call-to-action end-card, and you’ve got your own smasheroo-in-waiting, right?

Well, that’s the theory.

But while David Brent might have reckoned that a good idea is a good idea FOREVER, it’s hard to argue with the assertion that every concept has its own in-built lifespan.

So just as time eventually diminished the lethal pace of Thierry Henry, there must come a point when the value of even the strongest idea has been exhausted, dulling its once-palpable potency to the gentlest of throbs.

You want an example of this law of diminishing returns in action? Okay, try RSA Animate on for size.

With more than 30million YouTube views, there’s a fair chance you’ve seen one or more entries in the RSA Animate series. But for those who’ve not, it’s a simple enough, if ultra-successful, format to wrap your brain around.

Each video is comprised of two elements: a short lecture delivered by a brainbox academic, and the onscreen illustration of this lecture by a pen-toting hand (belonging, in reality, to ‘scribe’ and Royal Society fellow Andrew Park).

Here’s an example…

Simple as it may be, RSA Animate has proven something of a YouTube juggernaut in terms of racking up the views, and why not? It’s a very engaging and economical way of conveying thunking great asteroids of information. And that’s likely why the format’s been latched onto by commercial firms and universities alike.

In terms of UK higher education, the RSA gold rush kicked off in August of last year. First out of the traps was the University of Roehampton, with its explanation of the new university tuition fees…

Also getting in on the act have been Nottingham Trent, York, Manchester and Queen’s University Belfast, all delivering their own interpretations of the RSA format.

So what does that tell us?

Only that when it comes time to produce your next student recruitment video, there exists a definite temptation to commission a version of a currently-trending viral and equip it with the requisite on-brand messaging.

However once an idea has been loosed online and seen by a really wide audience, its power is understandably diminished; it might be possible to extrapolate a formula which seems to have previously delivered success, but any recreation will be minus the spark of vitality and originality that audiences responded so strongly to in the first place.

And further mitigating your own efforts is the fact your competitors are likely to be watching the same online videos as you, going through the same thought processes as they put together their next video – all of which could mean that your own video, when at last it’s unveiled, is just another of a veritable micro-legion.

Take a look at our own student recruitment work here.

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