Loki the cat, Emory University’s latest TikTok star, has to pack a lot into a day: He wakes up, fixes a protein shake for his typical “breaki,” has his weekly meeting with the university prez (“Shout out Fenves”), grabs some free food and bev, and unpacks the day in a video chat with his mama cat. Then, he peaces out in a pile of fluffy pillows.
Of course, he has to post it all to TikTok to get them views: “hardest part of business school is waking up for my 1pm😼 #emory #gregfenves #shoutoutfenves #cattok #cat #chad #longisland #collegetok #college”
Loki the bro cat is one of the first breakout stars of Marina Cooley’s content marketing course in the Goizueta Business School. In a world where we are bombarded with between 6,000 to 10,000 advertising ads a day, Cooley assigned a project to her students that is easy to explain, harder to pull off: Create a viral TikTok video and get an ‘A.’
Loki aced the assignment. He garnered 756K views, 209K likes, and 780 comments for his owner Rebecca Brazaitis and her teammates — engagement that would make the most seasoned content marketing manager take notice.
“A lot of times in business school, we read cases or are lectured to, but it’s hard to see what we learn translated to the real world,” says Brazaitis, who hopes to go into marketing after graduation, working in either brand or product strategy.
“This class and this project really exposed everyone to how content creation works. We got to see first-hand how social media managers come up with and create content for brands. It was super hands-on which made for a great learning experience.”
THE TIKTOK CHALLENGE
Cooley — a Goizueta lecturer of marketing with industry experience at Honest, Gold Peak, Coca-Cola, and Lavva — has taught content marketing to Goizueta students for three semesters, though this is the first semester in which she assigned the TikTok challenge.
When she first pitched a content marketing course to Goizueta, she was surprised to find no other models on which to build her curriculum. There’s influencer classes, social media courses, but little on actually creating the content that digital marketers must create and evaluate to break through the noise.
“I come from industry. I spent my career at Coca Cola, and so I knew that evaluating content is something that’s actually not taught at business school. We do a lot of content creation in advertising and communication programs, but the people that are actually deciding what assets are going to get millions of dollars invested in them aren’t trained to evaluate good content,” Cooley tells Poets&Quants.
She built the curriculum around foundational marketing concepts like storytelling and “sticky ideas,” ideas that are remembered, repeated, and acted upon by a lot of people. Students then apply them to creating content and building the digital ecosystem in which to launch them.
For the first semester, Cooley used the classic business school approach – find a failing company and create a content strategy for them. For the second, she recruited seven series A startups without marketing gurus yet on staff. Six of them had no idea what to do with TikTok in a business capacity, so her Gen Z students created three potential TikTok videos for each as examples of how they could use the platform. But, the students had no control on when, how, and if the content would actually be used in the wild, and no feedback on what impact it might have.
So, for the third semester this fall, Cooley created a class TikTok account, and divided her two sections in 27 teams. The challenge was simple: They’d post one video per day for 27 days and see what kind of engagement they could garner. Those that went viral got an ‘A.’
“I had no idea how it was gonna go and, obviously, this exceeded my expectations by a few million views,” Cooley says.
So far, the class has attracted nearly 7 million views across all their videos.
HOW TO GO VIRAL ON TIKTOK
Going viral, of course, is easier said than done.
There’s a matter of scale and context. Cooley started the account with zero followers – almost unrecognizable for the TikTok algorithm. So, the class decided that 25,000 views would count as viral for the assignment.
It can be impossible to explain precisely why one video takes off while a similar one languishes in obscurity, but there are teachable principles for good content. Cooley invited TikTok brand creator Bari Rosenstein to teach “Anatomy of a TikTok.”
- Pull them in quickly. You’ve only got two to three seconds to grab eyeballs to stop them from scrolling.
- Create a knowledge gap. Most viral videos – anything north of a million views – pose some kind of question that people want to learn the answer to. “So what does the day-in-the-life of an Emory cat look like? What is the worst college major to date? You have to watch to the end to get the answer,” Cooley says.
- Keep it short. The class found that videos under 30 seconds hit the sweet spot. Short videos that elicit emotion or answer a question have a better chance of breaking through the noise.
- Consistency and engagement is key. The project ran for 27 days, one video posted per day. Since the students started at zero, it was up to them to create buzz in the algorithm by making comments, sharing, and liking the videos.
They got their first big breakout on day five or six, with a montage video about Emory University being “the Harvard of the South.” It hit nearly 80,000 views.
They also garnered buzz around campus, running around with little microphones and interviewing Emory students on everything from which colleges they were rejected from, how much they pay in rent, and their most unpopular opinions. Soon, people started asking, “Are you from the TikTok class?”
Then, Emory President Gregory Fenves’ people reached out, saying he’d like to be involved. Cue Loki, the “Chad” cat, who sat in the president’s suite long enough to get the shot.
“I think that video really changed the algorithm’s relationship with our account,” Cooley says. “That hit half a million in about 16 hours. The week after that, we just continued to post pretty solid content, and then it was like 1.5, 2.4, 3.8 million hits for this teeny, tiny, baby account that was live for 27 days.”
‘DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN EMORY CAT’
Brazaitis believes the secret to Loki’s video was that it offered a surprising twist to the already popular “day in the life” TikTok trend.
Created by Brazaitis and teammates Madison Jones, David Seo, and Claudia Gonzalez, they first brainstormed what they as students would do during the day to come up with a list of shots. Then, they crafted the script to correspond with what Loki was doing on the screen. The Chad-like bro persona was just an added layer of mockery.
@profmarinacooley hardest part of business school is waking up for my 1pm😼 #emory #gregfenves #shoutoutfenves #cattok #cat #chad #longisland #collegetok #college ♬ Bad Habit – Steve Lacy
Throughout the planning, the students thought about what professor Cooley discussed in class. They trimmed it from 45 seconds to 30 because shorter videos generally get more views. They jumped quickly from clip to clip because they learned viewers were more likely to rewatch it so as not to miss anything. They made it “sticky” by making it unexpected.
“Typically, you do not see a cat performing the same tasks as a college student,” says Brazaitis, a junior majoring in marketing and film/media management.
“I think the video was short, funny, and relatable. Everyone could relate to the exaggerated ‘bro’ persona as it leans into some of the stereotypes of college students. And overall, people just love cat videos.”
The group tried to predict how popular Loki would be on the platform, predicting they would get 200K views and maybe 29K likes. To date, Loki has garnered 756K views, 209K likes, and 780 comments such as ‘Him sitting in class 😂 how is he so calm lmao” and “his voice i cantttt 😭” (Seriously, though, you have to hear it.)
So, how hard is it to get a cat to mug for the camera? Surprisingly not that hard.
“You would think that filming with a cat would be difficult but Loki was a great actor!” Brazaitis says. “Sometimes we would practice a shot before we started to film and Loki would be moving around a lot, but as soon as we started to film, he would perform exactly how we wanted him to.”
‘WORST MAJOR TO DATE’
The most viral video of the project also capitalized on an already viral TikTok trend – the Dance Moms pyramid reveal in which reality TV’s most famous dance coach, Abby Lee Miller, rather harshly ranks her young dancers from worst to best while dramatically ripping down sheets of paper.
Team Members Margaret Chang, Annabelle Chen, Cindy Zhang and Tara Zhang put their own spin on the pyramid, ranking the college majors to date from bad (work to do there, philosophy majors) to worse (and you, pre-med) to worst (sorry finance bros). Following the trend, Chang lip syncs Miller’s no-nonsense audio while tearing away papers with perfectly rehearsed flourish.
@profmarinacooley What would you add to the list ? #fyp #dancemoms #pyramid #majors #collegetok #emory #collegelife #dating #atlanta #wallstreet #rankings ♬ original sound – SendAFriend ✨
“It was perfect for the purposes of going viral because of its bite-sized length, popularity at the time, simple format, and the ability to be tailored to different subject matters,” says Chang, a senior majoring in Business and Psychology.
“We decided to rank college majors because it was relatable to our target audience (college students) and could be made humorous by poking fun at common major stereotypes.”
The most important part of the trend is nailing the lip-syncing and the timing of each reveal. While it took about five tries to get it just right, the format requires little post editing.
“It was important to us that the TikTok look seamless yet effortless, so we spent most of our time practicing the audio, thinking about the body language and positioning, and doing multiple test runs,” Chang says.
“Funnily enough, the biggest problem was finding enough sheets of paper to cover up our rankings. We had to bargain with the person at the front desk of the library to give us enough paper for the video.”
In coming up with the concept, the team considered several of the lessons learned in Cooley’s class:
- Simple – They purposely chose a known trend with a short format.
- Unexpected – Each reveal fulfilled a knowledge gap created by covering the answers. “People also found it unexpected when a major they thought would make the cut wasn’t there, or when their own major was listed. For example, there were a lot of comments like: ‘engineering majors survived this by a miracle,’” Chang says.
- Concrete – The visual imagery of a ranking pyramid was concrete. It also makes use of specific people doing specific things, which is a critical element of what makes content concrete.
- Credibility – The group was made of current college students making content about college. “People can trust what we say because it is likely informed by our personal experience.”
- Emotion – While the main emotion was humor, it also sparked some surprise, confusion, and even a little anger – “usually when they disagreed with the ranking or felt personally attacked by their own major being listed as one of the worst to date,” Chang says.
Their strategy paid off. With 3.8M views, 329K likes, and 2,167 comments, it was the video with the most engagement of the entire project.
“We did not expect to receive that much traction, so it felt surreal waking up the next day to find that our TikTok had blown up overnight,” says Chang, who plans to go to law school after graduation.
“We were initially expecting views somewhere in the 10,000s, maybe 100,000 if we were lucky. When the video started taking off, it seemed like every time I refreshed the page, our views had gone up exponentially. I also had a lot of friends and peers reach out to me or make comments in passing about seeing our TikTok – it felt really encouraging to receive such overwhelmingly positive response.”
PLATFORMS COME AND GO, GOOD CONTENT STICKS
Cooley says the TikTok experiment was a way to present the age-old ideas of storytelling, narrative arcs, and sticky ideas – concepts used for generations to capture attention and spread ideas – and apply them to a modern platform.
“TikTok will come and TikTok will go,” Cooley says. “But the things that appeal to us as humans don’t fundamentally change. The platform is just the delivery mechanism.”
Students dove into the account’s backend analytics to learn what the TikTok algorithm favors, skills content managers will need. Some even ran statistical regression analyses to see that the knowledge gap correlates highly with people watching videos in full – an algorithm boon. They also realized that virality breeds virality. Videos posted after the first big hitters were rewarded by more views later, while videos posted before didn’t have the luxury of a built-in audience.
“This isn’t rocket science in a way,” Cooley says. “You don’t need to have been a marketing executive for 20 years to create really viral content. In some ways, the students’ fresh Gen Z perspective is the skill set that’s valued.
“I think a lot of them have left this class with confidence that when they join a company, they might not know all the ins and outs of how a campaign runs all the way through, but they know their ability to grasp culture and to consistently adapt.”
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