Anyone who’s seen cringeworthy advertising from a major brand trying to capitalize on a meme knows that virality can’t be manufactured (I’m looking at you, Funyuns’ tumblr account.) The viral power of the internet is both terrifying and awe-inspiring, and if it could be bottled up and used at will, it would be the world’s most effective marketing tool. Unfortunately, you can’t guarantee that something will go viral — but you can take certain steps to make it more likely.
I’ve had a handful of cosplays go viral, and I’m going to pass on what I’ve learned from those experiences to you, so that you have a higher chance of getting struck by that crazy internet lightning.
In the end, I believe it boils down to three simple rules:
- Be the best, the first, or the only one.
- Don’t just do it, do it well.
- Start the fire yourself.
If you follow those three rules, the probability of your cosplay going viral increases. If it doesn’t end up happening, remember that it doesn’t mean you did a bad job! Virality is part following the rules, part sheer luck. Keep trying!
One: Be the best, the first, or the only one
In general, the kinds of cosplays that tend to go viral usually fall under one of these three categories.
If you’re the best version of that cosplay, it means you’re doing a costume that other people may have already done, but you’re going above and beyond the norm. For example, functional armor builds often fall under this category (like an Iron Man suit that has automatic moving parts), as do lookalike cosplayers, or people who tackle costume parts that others might’ve considered impossible (full centaur bodies, gravity-defying wigs, transforming costumes, etc.) This could mean that you’re a 6’8” bodybuilder cosplaying a character whose body type is generally considered impossible. It could mean that you’re cosplaying D.Va… sitting inside her life-sized mech. It could mean that you’re cosplaying princess Jasmine and you’re posing with a real tiger. It can mean that you don’t just have Daenerys, you have Daenerys and Missandei and Tyrion and Daario and three dragons. Basically, take it to the extreme.
If you’re the first to cosplay something, you have the ability to do something really popular before it gets overdone. (For example, Harley Quinn is a textbook example of overdone cosplay, but the first few people to do her Suicide Squad outfit saw a lot of recognition.) My Pokemon Go cosplay is a perfect example of this — I made and photographed the costume within one week of the game’s release, and got over a million views on my Facebook post (not to mention all the places it was reposted.) There were fantastic cosplays, as good as or better than mine, coming out during the weeks after that never saw nearly the spread that my photos did. I gained more Facebook followers in three days than I had gained in the previous year. People who released their cosplays just a few days after mine missed out on that.
If you’re the only one to ever do a cosplay, that means you’re cosplaying a character that people don’t usually cosplay. This is different from being the first to cosplay someone -- this implies that the character is obscure or under-valued, so people get extra excited to see that character represented. (For example, there are a million Ciri, Yennefer, and Triss cosplays, but people flip over seeing Dandelion, or Zoltan.) This can mean a side character in something popular, or a character that isn’t usually cosplayed but is well-loved (nostalgic characters are a great example of this — a Quail Man cosplay isn’t particularly difficult to put together, but people go nuts over it.) This one can be hard to pull off, because a lot of times, the characters that people aren’t cosplaying… aren’t being cosplayed for a reason. The key is finding a character that everyone knows and will recognize, but that isn’t getting any cosplay love.
Don’t just do it, do it well
You could be the first person in the world to complete a popular cosplay, but if you do a poor job of construction or makeup or styling, or you have low-lit, low-resolution, or unflattering photos of it, it won’t go anywhere. You’ll notice that even the mirror selfies that go viral tend to be well-lit, and taken on a good quality phone camera. People might be excited to see your cosplay, but to get them to share it, you have to blow them away.
If you have a cosplay with moving parts, take a short and to-the-point video clip. If your costume lights up, make sure you can see it in photos. If the scale of your costume is massive, make sure there’s something in the image for scale. And for god’s sake, make sure your photo isn’t blurry or grainy. I’ve been known to bring additional lamps and lights into the bathroom to take a makeup test photo if it’s late at night and there’s no natural sunlight to use. It can’t go viral if people can’t see it!
Likewise, as with any cosplay, a half-assed job isn’t going to impress people. If you finish and release Belle’s dress from the new live action Beauty and the Beast the day the promo images are released, but you’ve made it from fabric that’s the wrong shade, you did the sleeves differently, you didn’t quite have the right wig, etc., no one is going to have their mind blown. No matter what other key viral aspects you hit on, your work has to be good quality to get good reach, period.
Start the fire yourself
We’ve all been fed the story about someone waking up to realize the video they posted to their two-subscribe YouTube page has somehow gained hundreds of thousands of views overnight. While this kind of virality is possible, it’s increasingly unlikely with the sheer amount of content being created and shared on the internet nowadays. If you want your cosplay to go viral, you need to give it a little jumpstart.
The best way to do this is to just get your cosplay in front of as many eyes as possible, preferably in a really shareable medium. Personally, I post cosplay in a public album to Imgur, I share that album to relevant places on Reddit, and I also submit my photos to websites to be featured. Make sure you’re also sharing on all your main social media — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Basically, the more people who see it, the better chance they’ll share it, and more people will see it… and that’s how viral things work.
One important thing to remember here: Either you or your photographer (or both, if the photog is amenable) need to watermark your photos. Your watermark should ideally be easy to read, difficult to crop out, but not obstruct the photo or make it less aesthetically pleasing. If your photo goes viral, people will repost it and they will not credit you, because people are terrible. Make sure that whatever it says on the watermark will get people back to you if they’re looking.
Going viral can leapfrog you over what would otherwise be months or even years of growth. It can give you recognizability as a cosplayer, and even land you other opportunities. If you implement these three rules in your cosplay choice and execution, you have a way higher chance of that happening!
Have you ever had a cosplay go viral? Tell me about your experience in the comments!