How to Make Your Online Video Go Viral

Here's the Magic Formula to Get Your Push Embraced, and Avoid Being Stalled at the Gate

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Consuming internet video is a full-contact sport -- the initial viewing experience is just a gateway to the commenting, rating, sharing and even remixing or mashing up the original video content. And what brand doesn't want to tap into this new class of consumer behavior, making their ads "go viral" (cough) and picking up millions of "free" (cough, cough) impressions?

10 Viral Video Campaigns That Exploded

How 10 Viral Video Campaigns Fared

But our experience shows there's a world of difference between building a video campaign intended to go viral and actually having the target consumer embrace and extend it. The interest gap between embraced and stalled viral video ad campaigns is massive: as much as 20 times in terms of total campaign reach.

Campaigns such as "T-Mobile: Dance" or "Guitar Hero: Bike Hero" have been embraced by their online video audience, which goes on to spread the campaign far and wide, leading to a virtuous cycle where the audience continues to grow, increasing placements, views and brand messaging. These campaigns averaged more than 150 unique placements and north of 7 million views within two months of their launches.

Is 300,000 people passing along a campaign good? Or should you aim for 3 million? It's hard to say because nobody's consistently done the benchmarking. Until now. Starting this week, Visible Measures is teaming with Ad Age to publish a weekly chart of the web's top performing viral video ad campaigns on

Stalled campaigns, on the other hand, fail to activate the community. Without the support of a viewing audience, campaigns such as "Nike: Kobe Bryant Ankle Insurance" or "Virgin Atlantic: 25 Years, Still Red Hot" tend to languish with less than 50 video clips and less than half a million views.

One million -- that's the magic number of views our data seem to indicate is a harbinger of an embraced campaign. Those campaigns tend to shoot past a million aggregate views in their first few weeks, whereas stalled campaigns tend to have real difficulty ever crossing this barrier. While some campaigns, such as "PETA: Veggie Love," accumulate views rapidly, many others suffer the fate of " The World for $1," which rang up more than 600,000 views in its first two weeks, only to then stall out and asymptotically approach the 1-million-view mark.

Starting off strong
And, increasingly, success is seeded in the campaign's earliest days. We've discovered viral video ad campaigns tend to hit the ground running -- they average 35% of their total viewership during their first week. This initial growth phase is likely to set the campaign's overall trajectory, so many brands now front-load their marketing and promotion efforts.

The campaigns profiled here then entered a two-week-transition phase, during which their viewership grew by 20% each week. Note that these growth rates are roughly the same between the embraced campaigns and the stalled campaigns, making the performance during launch all the more important.

Finally, after the growth and transition phases have passed, viral-video ad campaigns tend to settle in to a steady-state phase, growing at 10% or less per week thereafter. It's worth nothing that some campaigns, such as "Durex: Get It On," have a more linear view-growth trajectory, steadily gaining new views each week.

Matt Cutler is VP-marketing & analytics at Boston-based Visible Measures.

For every "Evolution of Beauty" or "Touch of Gold" -- or, if you want to reach further back into the vault of virals, "Wassup" -- there are dozens of other campaigns whose grandest objectives have fallen well short of reality. But by understanding the data behind a campaign, we're getting closer to understanding, and eventually influencing, behavior in this space.

Here's how your video can hit the ground running

Seed smartly. Not all video-sharing sites are created equal in terms of the audiences they appeal to. So put it where you're most likely to find the right demographic. Is it young males you think will spread your video? Then try

Think deep, not wide. Successful campaigns don't distribute their clips to 50 networks at once. Just because you upload it to a site doesn't mean everyone will see it; instead select 3 to 5, buy media to support it, reach out to targeted press and users and aim to climb that "most watched" list at a handful of sites.

Don't spell it all out. From a creative standpoint, you want to leave room for interpretation. Look at Microsoft's Jerry Seinfeld- and Bill Gates-starring "I'm a PC" campaign or Cadbury's "Gorilla" ad. Successful online videos keep people guessing -- "Is it real?" "Did that really happen?" That helps propagate the content.

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