I'm not the only consultant who works in social media who wrestles with the term "viral".
I don't think anyone can grumble when clients suggest things like "We need a viral video" or "We can back this with a piece of viral marketing." Very often that's exactly right. SEOs might sometimes use the word "linkbait" in lieu of "viral" and that's a whole other debate.
My point is this; a video is never born viral, it becomes viral.
It's extremely misleading to refer to the pre-production video as "the viral". It's not a viral. It's a candidate for viral success. The strength of the candidacy is determined by many factors, some of which are outside our control.
The term viral, however, is easy to use. It slips off the tongue. People know what you mean when you refer to a works in progress as "viral" - except, not always. I think it mis-manages expectations to refer to anything as "viral" in the production/promotion phase. I think a good agency should always refer to the asset as a "viral candidate" rather than a "viral" just to help emphasis the truth.
To that end I find myself using the phrase VCV instead. VCV stands for Viral Candidate Video. This is a video that aspires to go viral and VCV is quicker, easier, to say.
My problem with my very own phrase is that we're often not talking about videos. VC still sounds like the money-backers to my ears. However, when we're talking videos and we're talking virals, VCV seems to fit very well.
The internet constantly surprises me in its tastes. Sometimes we'll see cracking videos (or other efforts) that seem to deserve to reach the viral heights fail. Other time, we see a piece of social conscience from the internet that makes me believe the world could be a nice place.
Here's a video, for example, that shows an American mob protesting against plans to build a new Mosque near Ground Zero turning against a black man because he looks a little Muslim. It's an outrage and the internet has surfaced it as such. This video was a candidate and now it's going viral.