Ice, Ice Baby! Deconstructing a Viral Video Meme

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Who says that crisis communication has to be boring? For those of you stuck inside with kids home from school today, take this lesson from Durham Academy. Lighten up!

If you are a digital marketer or public relations professional, you have to see this video. The Durham Academy Head of School Michael Ulku-Steiner and Assistant Head of School/Upper School Director Lee Hark announced that school would be closed Feb. 13, 2014, in a very unusual way.

They had this predictable popup message on the website (though many sites would make you dig for the info) …


But it was backed up by this video. Go ahead, watch it!

5 Reasons This Video Went Viral

The Durham Academy has a very modest YouTube channel with the kind of videos you would expect, including interviews with teachers and students. Most videos have a few dozen to a few hundred views. Before today, none of their videos topped 1,000 views. Nothing spectacular.

Here are the five reasons I think the video went viral:

  1. Join a Meme

  2. Online Presence

  3. Great Timing?

  4. Cascading Media Coverage

  5. Emotional Content 



It is kind of sad that this winter has brought out the meme of creative school closings. This was not the FIRST successful school closing video. On Feb 3, Stephens Elementary School principal James Detwiler in Kentucky delivered a creative school closing by changing the words to the “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Unfortunately, in that case, the school’s YouTube channel isn’t getting the views, but instead a channel which was clearly set up to capture the interest, NuttySchoolClosings.

Online Presence


Durham Academy was better poised to take advantage of the meme. They have a wide social footprint with their Heads Up blog. They also have a branded Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram and Pinterest page – and those were just the ones I found in a quick search.

Great Timing


With social media base in place, they made a well-timed tweet at 4:56 pm, just as the evening news was about to start, which is a well known deadline for school closure announcements. Since there was a known meme for school closings, the national and online media also were looking for potential human interest stories. Also, they were the first video out for THIS storm.

Cascading Media Coverage


They were retweeted immediately by four major news outlets in the Durham area (@JohnClarkABC11, @WRALJulia, @TheHerald_Sun) and local residents. An hour or two later, it was tweeted by more regional media outlets and reporters, like @WNCN, @WUNC, @WRAL, and @TGibbsABC11. By this point, Twitter users with followers of 5K or more where starting to join in. And at just before 10pm ET last night, Buzzfeed picked it up. This morning it was on Deadspin with a roundup of other fun cancellation recordings and videos. Then shortly after, Gawker picked it up.

From there it started to go viral. And when that happens, media coverage, while helpful, is no longer the most important. This quick analysis on Muckrack shows that as we went to press on this post, the video was shared 108,109 times across multiple social networks. This does not include how many times an article from one of the major online outlets was shared. The BuzzFeed article was shared 30,794 times. While Twitter was most likely the original driver for this story, it was actually Facebook that is driving the most shares. As people saw this on the media, they found and shared it to their friends in Facebook, which is where I saw it from my friend, Justin.


Emotional Content

Content is important to making a viral video successful, of course, and this one is the best content I have seen yet in this meme, with the Bohemian Rapsody being a close second. But it is decidedly low budget and hastily made. So, as fun as the content of a viral video may be, it is not the content alone that makes it viral. It is the production quality as much as the creativity that makes it so shareable. In a recent study by the National Science Foundation, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, about internet memes and viral videos, researchers found the following:

People were more likely to spread Internet memes when they had strong emotional responses to the content. It did not matter if the emotional response was positive or negative.”

The snow closing videos were guaranteed to get strong responses from the people stuck in those situations, it applied to a far wider audience than a single school in North Carolina. The fact that the video was funny made it even more shareable.

What do you think about this latest meme?


  1. Jim Detwiler says

    Interesting analysis. This is fascinating stuff. You didn’t include “intent” or “intended audience” in your list of 5. I can’t speak for the Durham gentlemen, but our intent with Snowhemian Rhapsody was not initially to post it on YouTube. The intent was just to make a fun audio closing announcement. In fact, at the last second, I threw my iPhone at a colleague and said, “Record this – My wife will want to see this.” Placing it on YouTube was a much later decision. And, our intended audience was really 700 families who send kids to our school. My impression of Ice Ice, which is hilarious, by the way – love it – is that it was intended to be put out in the internet for a much wider audience. Enjoyed your analysis. If I ever try to make a video go viral, I will use this a a guide. #NuttySchoolClosings

  2. Julie Pile says

    It also doesn’t hurt to have spent consideration time and effort in building a relationship with media outlets so that when you send them something with the potential of going viral, they immediately pick up on it.


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