Is Dove's Real Beauty 'Sketches' Really the Most Viral Ad Ever?

Behind the Differing Measures of Dove's Video Virality

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Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches" is the most-watched viral ad ever. Or is it?

Unilever says the video from Ogilvy Brazil recently became the most viewed viral ad in history, less than a month after its April 14 debut. Dove's PR firm, Edelman, bases that on data from video analytics firm Unruly Media, plus an additional 27 million views from China counted by Mavens of London. Both firms work for Unilever and Edelman on digital analytics and viewership optimization. And by their count, "Sketches" has amassed around 150 million views globally as of this week.

Not so fast, says rival video analytics firm Visible Measures, which only ranked "Real Beauty Sketches" fifth on its all-time ranking as of last week, albeit with a "true reach" of 157 million. That included views from China that Visible Measures added after Ad Age inquired.

That's still not bad, of course, especially considering that "Sketches" only debuted in April. Others ahead of it on Visible Measures' list -- including the venerable "Live Young" from Evian, "Kony 2012" for Invisible Children and "Stratos" from Red Bull – started piling up views earlier. Current No. 1 Blendtec's "Will it Blend?" took more than six years to get 231 million views.

Seemingly that puts Dove on pace to reach the top soon anyway. But at its current daily viewership, Dove would still need a year to catch Blendtec, according to a Visible Measures spokesman.

Visible Measures noted that its metrics are accredited by the Media Rating Council. Unruly's metrics at this point aren't.

For its part, Unruly said its methodology is "very simple and transparent," having been used since 2006 and now syndicated by the Interactive Advertising Bureau among others. It's based on public data from such sources as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as well as from a blog-scanning engine that scours the social web for video embeds and links.

Unlike Visible Measures, Unruly doesn't tend to consolidate different edits of the same ad, extended versions and other videos from the same campaign such as behind-the-scenes footage. Unruly also doesn't count "Kony 2012" in its raking, considering it more of a documentary than an ad. If Visible Measures followed Unruly's methodology -- and of course if it excluded "Kony 2012" entirely -- "Sketches" would rank higher on its list too.

Interestingly, Unruly's Viral Video Chart focuses primarily on shares, not views. By that measure, Real Beauty Sketches still ranks third behind Volkswagen's "The Force" ad from the 2011 Super Bowl and TNT Benelux's "A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square." But Unruly's spokesman said Dove is on pace to reach the top soon there as well.

Any way you count it, that's not bad for a month and a half.

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