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Ad Age's Top Viral Ad Campaigns of 2012

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It was the year of a short film about a Ugandan war criminal, Apple fanboy parodies and birds that got angrier, even in space.

The top video ads of the year (chart below) stood out for their variety: They came from a nonprofit advocacy group and from traditional packaged-goods brands. Some were created by agencies, and some were not. Two were stunts staged in outer space (Rovio and Red Bull). And two were launched along with sporting events: M&Ms. "Just My Shell" for the Super Bowl and P&G's "Proud Sponsor of Moms" for the Olympic Games.

Most remarkable, though, was their sheer scale. "Kony 2012," Red Bull's "Stratos" and "Angry Birds Space" all cracked 100 million views over the course of the year, the first time any branded video has done that in a year. Consider: The top viral ad of 2011, VW's "The Force," would have only come in at No. 5 on this year's chart with its modest 63 million views. The No. 2 viral ad from 2011, T-Mobile's "Royal Wedding," would not have even made the chart.

Last year, the chart was dominated by TV ads, or video ads that were connected to TV campaigns. This year the biggest viral hits had no connection to TV at all.

Two marketers, Samsung and Rovio, each had two videos in the top 10, a testament to how central video has become to their strategies. So while "Kony 2012" ran away with individual honors, the big brand winner was Samsung, which had more than 240 million views across all of its videos over the course of 2012, according to Visible Measures. While Google has no video in the top 10, its many smaller hits would put it at No. 5 among brands. That's another list we'll run in the coming days.

The two biggest agency winners in video this year were the usual suspects, Wieden & Kennedy of Portland, Ore., and L.A.'s 72andSunny. We'll do a chart on the top agencies of the year in the coming weeks, too.

Ad Age launched the Viral Video Chart with Visible Measures nearly four years ago, and it's a little different from other top "viral" charts you'll see this time of year. First, we exclude movie and video game trailers, not because we hate them or don't consider them ads or marketing but because they would overwhelm the chart most weeks. Second, unlike most charts, our numbers go far beyond YouTube to where videos go around the web (all sites, in fact, except Facebook).

But the biggest difference is that the numbers shown here include all versions of the campaign, as well as copies created and uploaded by users, including spoofs and derivatives. That piece becomes more important in a world of social-sharing where users take videos they like and make them their own.

So, enjoy. And visit our archive of Viral Video Charts from the past four years, we believe the most comprehensive record in one place.

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