Last updated on 5th January 2022.
Viral videos are the lottery winners of the video marketing world. They are videos that spread rapidly online, often garnering millions of views in a few short days.
Videos go viral for one reason only: people watch them, enjoy them, and share them. That’s it! It’s all about making a video that people enjoy enough to share with their friends. From there, it’s like a domino effect. Here are three of the most well-known viral videos online:
Ultimate Dog Tease
Charlie Bit My Finger
Have you seen them all?
They’re pretty bizarre, and it’s obvious that the people behind the camera (or in front of it!) were not expecting their video to be seen by millions of people. They don’t have in-depth storylines or Spielberg-esque special effects, they just have ‘it’.
It can be difficult to determine what will and won’t give a piece of content the ‘it-factor’, but brands are slowly beginning to crack the code. And – when brands get it right – their audience are happy to do the rest. Our research suggests people are twice as likely to share video content with their friends compared to any other type of content, including social media posts, blog posts/articles and product pages.
In this article, we’re going to get your creative juices flowing by looking at 22 of the best branded viral videos ever!
Dumb Ways to Die (Metro Trains)
This cutesy animation packs a powerful punch at the end. But it’s not just the contrast between the cheery, colourful characters and the overall message of the video that made this go viral. The music plays a huge part. This song can get stuck in your head for days (trust us, we know!) The track has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, and the original video has been watched (brace yourself!) over 220 MILLION times!!
Will it Blend? (Blendtec)
Ah, the age-old question we ask ourselves when looking at everyday objects: Will it blend?
The “Will it Blend?” YouTube series has been hugely successful for the blender company, Blendtec. These short segments, shot in an old-fashioned infomercial-style–right down to the Times New Roman font and cheesy intros–captivate millions of viewers time and time again.
The company also encourage social interaction by asking viewers to post their suggestions for upcoming videos to Facebook.
The Epic Split (Volvo Trucks)
When Volvo wanted to demonstrate the stability and precision of their dynamic steering, they did the obvious thing: hired Jean-Claude Van Damme to do the splits between two of their trucks.
This video is a recipe for success: Van Damme, Enya, a beautiful Spanish sunset. Of course, we don’t all have the budget for that, but one impressive thing about the video that you can emulate to increase the viral-ability of your own video is that it was shot in just one take! Videos shot in one-take can captivate audiences–especially if an impressive stunt is involved!
How Deep Does the Ocean Go? (Tech Insider)
On the surface, there is nothing about this video that would obviously make it go viral. It is a simple, animated explainer video, and it’s even a little on the long side–with 50% of people agreeing that the perfect length for an explainer video is 60 seconds.
But, if we dig deeper (see what we did there?), we can begin to uncover traits that assist this video in becoming viral. For a start, it answers a question of global interest, and this, in turn, gives it global appeal! So it is highly shareable.
The simple layout of the video and the continuous flow of the animation also makes it a captivating watch.
Gravity Cat (PlayStation)
This video by Playstation Japan, made to create hype for the release of the game Gravity Rush 2, is quite unique for a video game ad in that it only shows in-game footage for around 30 seconds near the end of the video. Instead of focusing on the game, the story of two sisters and their gravity-defying cat draws viewers in.
This think-outside-the-box approach not only caused the video to go viral and get people excited about the game, it also won the company an impressive amount of awards, including a coveted Gold Pencil.
A Phone Worth Keeping (Phonebloks)
The reason this video went viral is simple: it’s a great idea, executed beautifully. The filmmaker utilises animation and live-action simultaneously to get his point across, and the idea (while highly conceptual) is broken down and explained in an easy-to-digest manner.
This video was originally posted on the crowdspeaking platform, Thunderclap, and in just over a month it reached 381,733,848 people, 979,185 of which became supporters of the campaign.
Princess Machine (GoldieBlox)
There’s something about a Rube Goldberg machine that makes it pretty much impossible to turn away. We need to watch to the end to find out what simple task is going to be completed from all of these extravagant, connected movements.
But along with the Rube Goldberg machine, this video also has a powerful message. It shows young girls that are tired of their pink, princess-y toys working together to build something. It perfectly embodies the slogan of the GoldieBlox company: Toys for Future Engineers.
Thanks to this clever messaging, the video accrued 6 million views in 5 days!
What Is Artificial Intelligence? (HubSpot)
Similar to the Tech Insider video, this video answers a question that is of obvious public interest. It also uses bright animation, and smooth captivating transitions, making for an easy watch.
The video is entertaining, including many pop culture references, but it is comprehensive at the same time. It takes the topic, in this case artificial intelligence, and breaks it down into digestible chunks of information. It was also released alongside an original research paper published by HubSpot, which helped to increase its presence online.
Email in Real Life (Tripp and Tyler)
Email in Real Life takes a simple idea that everyone thinks they understand–email–and turns it on its head. This video, shot almost like a sitcom, shows viewers just how weird ‘email talk’ really is, with an incredible script and a great team of actors.
Thanks to the uniqueness of the idea, the video was written about in lots of publications, including The Huffington Post, Fast Company, and Bustle.
Meet the Makers (Intel)
Unlike a lot of viral videos, it’s easy to see why this heart-warming story gained so much attention from the media and public alike.
Thirteen-year old, Shubham’s empathy and affinity for technology are inspiring in equal measure, and the fact that his invention will give over 200 million blind people an affordable way to read makes this a story worth sharing.
Danny MacAskill’s Imaginate (Red Bull)
At just over seven minutes, this is more like a short film than a simple YouTube video–and it has the production value to match! This beautiful video, which takes us into the imagination of street trials rider, Danny MacAskill, is playful, fun, and gives out strong ‘Toy Story’ vibes!
Despite the length, this video keeps viewers watching as each stunt is more impressive than the last. The stunts alone are worthy of the 92 million views this video has clocked up to date!
Last Call for Mr. Paul (Red Bull)
From one incredible stunt man to another, Red Bull are on fire with their viral videos. This one currently has over 150 million views and features freerunner, Jason Paul running to catch a plane.
After their success with multiple viral videos, Red Bull even posted a guide teaching people how they do it!
We’re the Superhumans (Channel 4)
This video begins with a man playing the drums with his feet–spectacularly, we should add!–and so instantly the interest of the viewer is peaked. From there, the video becomes more and more enthralling. Set to the empowering song, ‘Yes I can’ by Sammy Davis Jr. the video shows people with disabilities, including Paralympic stars, doing a range of incredible things.
In addition to becoming the second-most shared Olympics-themed ad on social media (of all time!) in the week of its launch, research into the campaign found that 74% of people felt more comfortable discussing disability after seeing it, and 59% felt it improved their perception of those with disabilities.
What Most Schools Don’t Teach (Code.org)
With big names like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Will.i.am, you almost expect your video to go viral. But it’s not just the celebrities that make this video stand out. The message is powerful, inspiring, and thought-provoking. It speaks directly to children and young adults, while also having their best interests at heart.
One tip that you can borrow when it comes to creating your own video is the power of an elusive title: “What Most Schools Don’t Teach.” That’s a title that demands to be clicked on, because everyone wants to know the answer!
Cart Whisperer (VeriSign)
This video is so odd, and that helps it to succeed in two ways:
1. It keeps people watching
2. It encourages them to visit the website to find out what on Earth they just watched!
This video shows how effective your marketing can be if you really think outside-the-box and stop taking your product so seriously!
Real Beauty Sketches (Dove)
Dove, as a brand, has been talking about real beauty for a long time. But this video in particular was described by The Daily Telegraph as their “most thought-provoking film yet”.
The idea for the video came from market research that suggested only 4% of women describe themselves as beautiful, and around 54% believe they are their own worst beauty critic. For this reason, the video spoke to a lot of women, and it was downloaded over 15 million times in the first week of its release!
Wheels (Canadian Tire)
This is the second viral ad on our list to be featured during the Olympics. With its strong message of inclusivity, this video by Canadian Tire grew from 800,000 views to 50 million in just one week! It really does pay to tug on the heartstrings of your viewers!
Dear Kitten (BuzzFeed and Friskies)
This ingenious collaboration between Friskies and BuzzFeed has over 30 MILLION views to date, and has since sparked an entire series of videos that all revolve around the same simple scenario: an old cat teaches a new kitten about the world.
Cats have somewhat of a reputation for creating viral videos online just by being their cute, crazy selves. By teaming that footage with a hilarious script, BuzzFeed and Friskies have managed to create a viral video franchise.
The moral of this story is simple: Give the people what they want!
This is a Generic Brand Video (Dissolve)
In a bold and potentially crazy (but definitely funny) move, stock footage site, Dissolve, used their own stock footage to mock generic stock footage videos in the advertising industry. Pretty ‘meta’, huh?
Well, the bold move paid off. During the video’s launch week, visits to the site increased by 9x and sales revenue and site sign-ups both increased by 6x!
The Long Wait (John Lewis)
The John Lewis Christmas advert is a much-anticipated tradition in the UK, and although this video was not the first Christmas ad they released, it most definitely was a game-changer.
The ad does not promote any John Lewis products, it focuses solely on making viewers think about the real meaning behind Christmas: giving. The attention that this ad received sparked an all-out war between the biggest brands in the world, who now compete every year to create the soppiest, most heart-warming, most-viral Christmas advert.
To the Greatness of Small (Alibaba)
By taking a real-life, inspirational story and applying it to their own brand, Alibaba were able to dramatically increase the attention of their video.
The video, about the greatness of small things/dreams/businesses, marks the start of a ten year partnership for Alibaba with the Olympic games, so they wanted to make sure they started with a bang. And, with over 9 million views to date, they certainly did!
Black and White People Furniture (Red House)
How can an ad for a furniture store in High Point, North Carolina become a viral-internet sensation?
Easy. By being as bizarre as possible.
While watching this ad, which is now almost ten years old, it is difficult to tell whether it is real or a joke. Speaking about the ad, a spokesperson for The Red House said of the video: “We thought something with a comical, racial reconciliation theme would be fun, as well as a conversation starter.”
They were right about that! The video features real employees of the furniture store and also Rhett and Link who are now huge YouTube stars–this may have helped a little with the viral factor of this video!
The only thing that the videos in this article had in common was that they went viral. The differences between them were vast. Some went viral because they answered interesting questions or challenged the status quo, others went viral because they were incredibly weird.
So, there really is no ‘formula’ when it comes to creating a viral video, all you can do is go with your gut, make something that you think your audience would enjoy, and keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to social media!