By Alexander Jutkowitz The curse of trying too hard can be a fatal one for brands.  Pressure to create the next great viral ad forces too many marketers and agencies to venture into the cringe-worthy waters of overwrought cat videos, stilted GIFs, and tragically un-memed memes. Worse, the echo chamber effect of the Internet can keep the content duds fresh for years to come (for the unconvinced, a mere Google search of ‘the worst ad ever’ evinces, for too many brands, gobs of immortal yolk). So how can your brand make sure that it isn’t ‘trying too hard’? You can apply this simple test: does your content replicate, regurgitate, or imitate? If any of these labels apply, you might want to rethink your content production strategy. Here’s why: [caption id="attachment_1312" align="alignright" width="150"]Alexander Jutkowitz Alexander Jutkowitz[/caption] In the digital age, replicating viral success is never as good as creating new and lasting content. While it’s a common adage that nothing’s impossible, it’s safe to say that replication in the form of viral success makes the list. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice—‘virality,’ isn’t an exact science yet because it’s simply too difficult to secure the same variables twice. Contemporary issues, pop culture references, the fickleness of social media, or the serendipitous retweet by a key influencer—putting content out into the world is in part an act of faith, not formula. And while ‘en vogue’ marketing tactics can be effective, they really rely upon a much more traditional caveat: that the content itself be great. Content goes viral because people want to share it. And the best way to ensure ‘share-ability’ is to make content that people think is so great, that they can’t help but to pass it on. Replicating a brand’s quirky cat video, or an astronomically successful montage of people shying away from a camera like Dove’s recent touching ad, infringes on the novelty that makes many of us pass along an article, video, or GIF in the first place. Even BuzzFeed, an outlet that can appear formulaic on its surface, experiences real viral success when its pieces are witty, the subject is interesting and the content is truly funny. Regurgitation is the opposite of great content. How can you be sure your content is great? Quality content offers the reader—and your brand’s audience—new and important knowledge. Does your content educate and inform your reader? Does it delight them with a new experience? Or is it merely relaying information and experiences that they are already familiar with? Regurgitation is the characteristic usually ascribed to under-performing content. It’s often the very culprit behind bad infographics, overly promotional or stilted copy, and content that’s produced solely for the sake of populating a blog. In other words: content that is little more than regurgitated news or facts does little to extend a brand’s message, improve a brand’s public image, or contribute to meaningful thought leadership aims.  And yet, great content can often accomplish all of these goals at once. Just take a look at GE’s Industrial Internet campaign or Red Bull’s ongoing content marketing efforts. Making interesting content means leveraging your brand’s unique lens to create new and useful information for audiences. Imitation is a shortcut to profundity; great content dares to be original. To Charles Caleb Colton, imitation might be ‘the most sincerest form of flattery,’ but in the marketing world, imitating comes across as foul play. That’s because in 2014, if your brand isn’t trying to be original and daring to be unique, chances are your audience is taking notice. At best, imitation as a strategy will yield in results almostas good as the original—but more often than not, audiences are keen to stale strategies and the backfire could be embarrassing. Crafting original content means celebrating both your brand and your audience. It means creating quality content that strives to stand out from its peers. YouTube’s Head of Culture and Trends Kevin Allocca recently told PSFKthat one of the themes to separate viral content is that “the content is based on something surprising or unexpected that separates it from traditional entertainment/news/education content.” Creating great content isn’t easy, but the results are often much more rewarding than trying too hard to replicate the latest meme, viral video, or content marketing strategy. Instead of an overzealous aim to make something ‘go viral,’ marketers are much better served to set their sights on making quality content that is new, lasting, and above all—interesting.  Alexander Jutkowitz is a vice chairman and the chief global strategist of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, he is also managing partner of SJR Group that H+K acquired last year.