This year's biggest winners and losers in online video

Every month here at iMedia, we take a look at the most-watched brands in video. Instead of producing another monthly chart for the end of the year, we wanted to shake things up a bit.

We didn't just want to show you the most-watched brands of the year. We wanted to show you movement in the video ad industry. Who's up? Who's down? And what does it mean?

So we took a look at the increase or decrease in viewership for brands in 2012 compared to 2011. This means that a brand had to be sufficiently active in choice video in 2011 to be considered for the list (so you won't find Invisible Children or Barack Obama here). We started with all the choice-based video campaigns launched by brands over the past few years, aggregated their viewership for 2011 and 2012, and then rolled up the campaigns by brand. We then took their total viewership for each year and simply subtracted 2012's performance by 2011's performance. The numbers represented here are the difference in views, not the total views, in 2012. We only count views when a real person chooses to watch a video ad, so in-stream or auto-play impressions are not included here.

The biggest losers lost the most views of the year. The winners have seen the biggest gains.

So with that, we'll give you the bad news first.

The losers

Evian was 2012's biggest loser. The bottled water brand, famous for one of the most viral video campaigns of all-time ("Live Young," aka Roller Babies), lost more than 30.1 million views in 2012. Ironically, as we'll see throughout this list, the success of its biggest campaign in 2011 was the brand's downfall in 2012. Evian tried to recreate the success of "Live Young" with "Baby Inside" in 2011, but the campaign fell relatively flat. Evian was quiet in 2012, and audiences had finally seen enough of the roller-skating babies, accounting for the precipitous drop in views.

The second viral giant to fall in 2011 was T-Mobile, famous for a number of video phenomena, including "T-Mobile Dance," "Royal Wedding," "Angry Birds," "Welcome Back," and others. In fact, "Royal Wedding" was the fifth most-watched campaign of 2011. T-Mobile's video story was big in 2011: It generated more than 41 million views from eight new campaigns. But it launched half that number in 2012, for a net-new 13.3 million views, a dramatic plunge from 2011. The combination of a creative shift away from viral content and a reduction in campaigns are at the core of T-Mobile dropping more than 28 million views in 2012.

Dirt Devil is an interesting case on the losers' list. The vacuum brand cleaned up in 2011 with a campaign done on spec by a German film school. "You Know When It's the Devil" was among the top-viewed campaigns of 2011, with more than 26 million views. It was also Dirt Devil's only campaign. In 2012, Dirt Devil didn't launch any new campaigns, and audience interest in the "You Know When It's the Devil" campaign died off, accounting for the 22-million-view crash.

Volkswagen is the big shocker on the loser list. With one of the most-watched Super Bowl campaigns of 2012, you would think that the German automotive brand would have made significant ground this year. But that didn't happen. This is because of the size of "The Force," its 2011 Super Bowl campaign and the most-watched campaign of that year. But it's not all bad news for VW. The deeper story here is that Volkswagen seems to have become more efficient in 2012. In 2011, it launched 32 campaigns, for an average 2.3 million views, including "The Force." In 2012, it launched 19 campaigns, for an average 2.5 million views. So, while fewer campaigns drove more average views in 2012, they weren't able to make up the gap set by the herculean viewership of "The Force." Had VW launched the same number of campaigns as in 2011, it very well might have had a different story to tell instead of looking at a detriment of 20 million views.

Levi's rounds out the top of the loser list. The jeans brand launched a modest five choice-based video campaigns in 2011, with "Rear View Girls" leading the way at 10.2 million views. In all, Levi's campaigns published in 2011 combined for 18.7 million views. Levi's released only three campaigns in 2012, but averaged only 230,000 views. While the level of campaign activity didn't fall dramatically, without big new content, brand viewership suffers, and this is why Levi's lost more than 18.6 million views in 2012.

Overall, the biggest losers of 2012 suffered from a relative lack of video activity. To keep audiences coming back, brands need to continue telling their stories and publishing new content along with developing a strong choice-based media strategy. Otherwise, audiences will find something else to watch -- potentially a campaign from a competitor.

The winners

The successes of 2012 tell the flip side to this story. Two of the brands made out big time with huge viral campaigns, while others invested heavily in the medium and saw significant return in viewership.

M&M'S had the fifth biggest improvement in viewership in 2012. This jump is entirely attributable to its Super Bowl campaign, "Just My Shell," which has scored 48 million views to date. M&M'S only launched two campaigns in 2012, which is on par with what it produced in 2011. The difference between the two years, though, is 49.8 million views. M&M'S will have to develop a more stable viewership strategy in 2013 to continue to drive this level of performance.

Nike continues to impress in choice video and comes in fourth place among the winners. Nike has embraced the concept of producing content with open arms, launching no fewer than 18 campaigns in 2012, led by "Summer of Football" with 36.1 million views, Nike's second most-watched campaign of all time. Nike has also increased its media game, improving its campaign average view count by more than 4.8 million views (5.9 million average in 2012 compared to 1.1 million in 2011). Overall, with help from campaigns like "Summer of Football," "Kobesystem," and "Nike + Fuelband Counts," Nike has increased its online viewership by more than 61 million views in 2012.

Internet juggernaut Google takes third place among the winners. With its own personal network in YouTube, Google can pump views at will. But Google also plays the content game, and it published 40 video campaigns in 2012, an increase of more than 15 campaigns over 2011. Google's biggest campaign of the year was "Project Glass" with more than 20 million views, the company's fourth largest of all time. But even without upsetting its own rankings, the sheer amount of quality content Google produced resulted in an annual increase of 136 million views.

Red Bull was the year's second biggest winner, climbing more than 192 million views compared to 2011. The growth comes almost entirely from its breakout campaign of the year, "Stratos," which skyrocketed to 171 million views in just a couple of months. It's also the second largest campaign of the year overall, only behind "Kony." Red Bull publishes significant amounts of content; however, much of it isn't campaign-based, so it isn't eligible for this list. That said, Red Bull has more than doubled its output of choice campaigns this year, each playing on its extreme sports theme. Even without "Stratos," Red Bull would have made significant gains over 2011.

The biggest winner in video in 2012 is Samsung. The electronics brand exploded from 52.3 million views in 2011 to more than 280.2 million in 2012, a difference of 227.8 million views. Samsung won with a combination of producing more great video content, jumping from 22 campaigns in 2011 to 26 campaigns in 2012, and media investment. Samsung's biggest campaign of the year was the "Galaxy S III," which includes creatives mocking Apple fans waiting for the iPhone 5. The campaign was the most-watched electronics ad of the year and claimed the fourth spot among all viral ads. Beyond owning the biggest electronics campaign of the year, Samsung also increased its campaign efficiency. In 2011, Samsung averaged 1.6 million views per new campaign launched. In 2012, that number jumped to more than 9.2 million views.

With video advertising becoming one of the most powerful ways for brands to reach and create emotional connections with their audiences, developing a creative and media strategy to stay top of mind and engage is more important than ever. Evian was the hottest brand in the space for arguably two years because of one viral campaign. But, as we've seen here, virality eventually fades, creates a void for the brand, and is incredibly difficult to reproduce. Volkswagen faced the same obstacle in 2012 by trying to live up to the standard it set with "The Force" in 2011. Audiences were expecting a campaign on par with the blowout hit of 2011, but that didn't happen, leading to a drop in views. VW was smart, however, in combining creative with media, and prevented an even more significant drop in views. Samsung, Google, and Nike, with their performance here, are clearly thought leaders in the industry. They don't rely on one breakout campaign per year. They develop numerous creative concepts and, in conjunction with a choice-based media strategy, launch them throughout the year to keep audiences coming back.

And that, ultimately, is the goal here. Build a loyal audience in video and keep them coming back for more.

Matt Fiorentino is director of marketing at Visible Measures.

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