Nearly everyone wants to go viral. And why not? People actively choose to watch your ad, actively choose to recommend it to their friends and family, who then actively choose to watch and recommend it themselves. The cycle repeats. And repeats. Earned media explodes, brand engagement skyrockets, brand lift metrics go through the roof, and passive consumers become active brand evangelists. It's advertising gold.
But it's difficult. Everyone wants to find that initial spark that launches a campaign into the stratosphere. Each campaign has its own characteristics. And many of the brands on this list have cracked the code in their own unique ways.
We've developed a list of the most viral campaigns of the year. Our hope is that this list will reveal some secrets that answer the question everyone reading this should be asking: How do I get on this list next year?
To determine who is on this list, we measure thousands of social video campaigns, composed of hundreds of millions of videos, across the web day in and day out. Each campaign is measured on a "True Reach" basis, which includes the original clips brands and agencies upload, as well as the clips audiences copy, mix, mash, spoof, and repost across the web. All views are user-initiated. Or, in other words, a real person needs to click the play button for a view to count. The data were run from Jan. 1, 2011, to Nov. 20, 2011.
Campaign: The Force
True Reach views: 62,478,388
Volkswagen's cute Darth Vader is responsible for 2011's most-watched viral campaign. "The Force" leaked a few days before the Super Bowl and generated more than 14 million views before the game even started. From there, the campaign took off and never looked back. Today, it has more than 65 million views and is one of the most-watched campaigns of all time.
Campaign: Live Young
True Reach views: 49,318,708
Evian's "Live Young" has been on nearly every top viral video advertising list since it launched in 2009. With more than 1,500 placements across the web, the campaign is good for about 1 million views each week and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.
Campaign: Crash the Super Bowl 2011
True Reach views: 35,453,399
Doritos's "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign has found a winning formula for going viral: Crowdsource fan-made ads, hold a contest to determine the winners, and promote the best of the best. The campaign generates millions of views months before the Super Bowl, gets a massive burst after the big game, and then continues to drive views as fans start posting new videos for next year's Super Bowl. "Crash the Super Bowl 2011" has more than 350 clips and 48 million views.
Campaign: Will it Blend?
True Reach views: 35,413,000
Blendtec's "Will It Blend?" stays relevant by pulverizing pop culture one piece of merchandise at a time. With more than 35.4 million views in 2011, its biggest creatives of the year feature the iPhone 4S, which is also on this list, and a Justin Bieber doll biting the dust.
Campaign: Royal Wedding
True Reach views: 28,352,260
T-Mobile's UK division has consistently produced viral hits, and "Royal Wedding" is no exception. The campaign spoofed the royal wedding party with a dancing procession, inspired by the JK Wedding Dance, and hit the web a couple weeks before the actual wedding. With more than 28.3 million views, it's even outdone the real royal wedding online: Search for "royal wedding" in YouTube and see what pops up first in the search results.
Brand: Dirt Devil
Campaign: You Know When It's the Devil
True Reach views: 26,072,669
Dirt Devil's "You Know When It's the Devil" shows just how powerful storytelling can be. The spot was done on spec by a German film school and quickly caught fire online. With more than 26 million views, the creative spoofs the classic horror flick "The Exorcist" and made the shortlist at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in 2011.
Brand: Old Spice
Campaign: New Old Spice Guy Fabio
True Reach views: 26,041,155
With "Responses" in 2010, Old Spice found a successful viral formula. With "New Old Spice Guy Fabio" in 2011, Old Spice repeated it. The campaign features more than 200 clips of a battle between new Old Spice Guy Fabio and old Old Spice Isaiah Mustafa fought across the web and social media. Mustafa won, and the campaign generated more than 26 million views.
Campaign: Introducing iPhone 4S
True Reach views: 25,697,485
At more than 25.6 million views in less than six weeks, "Introducing iPhone 4S" became Apple's most-watched campaign in short order. From fewer than 10 original clips uploaded by Apple, we've identified more than 450 copies and derivatives across the web. But, what's perhaps even more interesting is that the copies and derivatives' more than 14.4 million views have outperformed the original clips' 11.2 million views. The "Introducing Siri" creative has captured nearly 50 percent of all campaign views.
Campaign: Life Is Best When Driven
True Reach views: 25,456,895
Fiat's "Life is Best When Driven" has tapped Jennifer Lopez to the tune of 25.4 million views in less than two months. Besides paid promotion, the campaign has gotten a boost from sponsoring Lopez's music video "Papi," which has generated nearly all of the campaign's views.
Campaign: Imported From Detroit
True Reach views: 22,164,969
Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" exploded after the Super Bowl, topping 10 million views in less than a week. The campaign has continued to surge since then, reaching 22.1 million views for the year. To show just how quickly tides can shift online, "Imported From Detroit" was the fifth most-watched campaign of the year as of June.
So what does it take to get on this list?
The first element is choice. People have to actively choose to watch your campaign for it to go viral. People choose to watch ads that run across choice-based video ad networks and social video sites like YouTube, Metacafe, and Dailymotion.
The second element: Ads as content. People don't choose to watch and share ads because of their facts and figures. They do it because the ads are entertaining, inspiring, informative, shocking, mind boggling, or unbelievable. They tell a story that people connect with.
The third element is paid promotion. There's simply too much noise across the web for campaigns to be discovered organically today. They need help to get noticed and, ultimately, to go viral. Paid promotion gives them that first crucial step. Or, to think about it another way: You could have the best ad in the history of mankind, but if no one knows it's there, it's not going viral.
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