YouTube's formula for a can't-miss viral hit

For most of the world, YouTube is the place where videos go viral. People upload more than 72 hours of video content every minute to the site in hopes of making a massive splash.

But YouTube is more than just a great site for user-generaed content. It can also create a viral hit. In the past, YouTube has teamed up with brands like Hyundai ("The YouTube Symphony Orchestra," with 18.2 million True Reach views) and Lenovo ("Spacelab: What Will You Do?" with 27.6 million True Reach views) to create campaigns that actively seek out audience participation. For its fifth birthday, YouTube launched a video featuring a timeline of some of its biggest hits over the years and, in doing so, showed just how significant the video site has become as a culture force. "YouTube Turns 5" generated 18.2 million True Reach views in the process.

To celebrate the end of 2012, YouTube again turned to the content on its site to highlight some of the biggest trends of the year. But it took up a notch. Instead of simply showing a compilation of the most-watched clips of the year, it created a parody of two of the biggest YouTube music videos of 2012 (and of all time), PSY's "Gangnam Style" and Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe." The video features the stars of some of YouTube's biggest channels, including AlphaCat, KassemG, DailyGrace, DeStorm, Real Annoying Orange, Rhett and Link, Smosh, Felicia Day, iJustine, Ryan Higa, and many others. Some of the largest campaigns of the year also make appearances, including "Kony 2012," Red Bull's "Stratos," and Melbourne Metro Train's "Dumb Ways To Die."

YouTube's formula for a can't-miss viral hit

The effort made YouTube the second most-watched brand of December. In conjunction with a number of other campaigns launched over the years, YouTube generated more than 75.5 million True Reach views for the month. (Third place went to none other than Google, which had 55.6 million True Reach views.)

What can we learn from YouTube's success?

You have to be relevant

Brands are trying to create more content today than ever before. The reason is that instead of purely advertising to your audience, you're creating content that they'll actually seek out. Branded content gives audiences something to actively engage with beyond your brand's product messaging.

One of the keys to successful branded content generation is relevance. If you can create branded content that's relevant and resonates with your audiences, you've won a huge battle. As a home to viral hits, YouTube is a center for cultural relevance, so it comes naturally to the company. Other brands have to find or create relevance.

Kraft has one of the best examples of leveraging culture relevance. A few years ago, the story of a homeless man with a golden voice, Ted Williams, was dominating the media. Kraft tapped Williams to do a voiceover for a commercial. The commercial itself was funny, but fairly standard. The addition of Williams -- and relevance -- gave the ad a boost, and it generated more than 2.3 million True Reach views.

Be true to your brand

While wrapped in a fun parody featuring our favorite YouTube stars and viral hits, "YouTube Rewind Style" is all about promoting its exclusive channels. Last year, Google invested more than $100 million in original channels for YouTube. The effort is designed to make YouTube an entertainment destination with the goal of bringing more brand dollars to the site. By featuring the likes of Smosh, Rhett and Link, and Real Annoying Orange, "YouTube Rewind Style" has given YouTube and its channels significant additional visibility. And because YouTube wants its brand to be associated with professional original content -- as opposed to the user-generated content that typically dominates YouTube -- "YouTube Rewind Style" is particularly effective.

Red Bull, P&G, and Intel and Toshiba are all great examples of running campaigns that are true to their brand. Red Bull wants to own extreme sports, exemplified in its "Stratos" campaign. Consumer packaged goods heavyweight P&G wanted to own the Olympics with moms, which was accomplished with "Proud Sponsor of Moms." Intel and Toshiba want to be relevant with younger audiences, so they launched "The Beauty Inside," a social film targeted toward a younger, social media-savvy audience.

Discovery is critical

The 72 hours of video content uploaded every minute is a paradox for the industry; one of the promises of online video is that it levels the playing field. But, now that everyone is trying to play on that level playing field, the bigger players are rising to the top. Today, you need a lever to stand out from the crowd. For some brands, that's paid media. For others, it's PR. Both require resources and budget. And they're both critical.

YouTube has an inherent advantage here for obvious reasons and can leverage that advantage when it needs to. Brands don't have that type of inherent leverage, so they need to develop other strategies to make their campaigns more discoverable by the right audiences. If they don't, their campaigns and content will be swept away in the 72 hours of video uploaded every minute.

The top 10 brands of December

Beyond YouTube, other brands to dominated video in December included Turkish Airlines (which launched a cute campaign with Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi to the tune of more than 104 million views) and Rovio (with help from "Angry Birds Space" and "Angry Birds Star Wars"). Chart regulars like Samsung, Nike, and Red Bull also made the chart in December.

Matt Fiorentino is director of marketing at Visible Measures.

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