Viral Videos Still Work

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As the popularity of YouTube and other online video destinations grows, something made me think that the concept of a "viral video sensation" would dissipate. Boy, was I wrong.

If you think about it, YouTube continues to grow (both in terms of who is watching videos and how many people are uploading videos). It only reasons that the more people watching and the more people posting videos might lead to a weird moment when everything falls into the Long Tail, and it gets increasingly more complex to make a video breakthrough and achieve any semblance of a massive viral effect.

What makes a video go viral?

First off, it’s important to remember that creating a viral video is not a strategy. It’s an outcome of doing many things right, and then having that video really connect with an audience that cares enough to talk about it and share it. Videos that go viral tend to go to an edge. They also usually hit a very primal human emotion (humour, sadness, shock, awe, sexy, etc…). So, while we can’t really explain what does go viral, it’s amazingly obvious to all of us when we see a lame video that won’t go viral. If we’re going to get very raw here (and when do we not do that?), most brands are not willing or able to go that edge. Most brands think that it has to be borderline offensive (closer to the sex or humour on that primal human emotion side), but it doesn’t… and here’s the proof…

Watch this!

Inspired Bicycles filmed an amazing video collection of street trials riding (mountain bikes). The video was posted to YouTube on April 19th, 2009 and in under one year it has clocked over 17,000,000 videos (and growing). You can watch it here: YouTube – Inspired Bicycles – Danny MacAskill April 2009.

But wait, there’s more…

In case you missed Blendtec‘s infamous video of Will It Blend? the iPhone edition (now sporting over 8,000,000 views), they launched their Will It Blend? the iPad edition on April 5th, 2010 and it is quickly approaching 6,000,000 views. Keep in mind that it took the iPhone version nearly three years to hit eight million views, while the iPad edition broke the five million mark only a few days after it was posted. YouTube – Will It Blend? – iPad.

You do realize we are just watching commercials here, right?

Sure, they’re cool, fascinating and awesome videos, but they are still commercials. Commercials for bikes and blenders. Commercials that aren’t 30-seconds in length, but anywhere between two to six minutes a pop.

Our time spent with brands is getting more intense (not less). So, while people complain about TV advertising, just watch their YouTube habits for a little bit more of the truth.

We live in the most branded generation ever.


  1. You’re right on Mitch, it’s not a strategy. So many companies approach me to try to figure out how to make their stuff go viral.
    You can do all the right things and not go viral. But if you’re real and create remarkable content (and a lot of it) you have a chance.

  2. Hi Mitch,
    What can I say, each time I watch the Will it blend video, I want to cry – not because he is distroying an Apple product but because it costs money and some people are dying from malnutrition. But, it does prove the point you are making as to successful Ad do call an emotional reaction.

  3. Just a small point of correction. That is not a mountain bike, it is a BMX bike and these kids practice hours upon hours to do these stunts in hopes of getting sponsored. There are tons of videos like these, which just proves the point that not all videos go viral.

  4. They may be commercials, but the brand benefit isn’t equal. Blendtec are integral to the clips, Inspired et al are incidental – they merely “provide” the amazing stunts on offer. It is like comparing branded content to a product placement or sponsorship

  5. Mitch: While viral videos are still alive and well, I think the next year will enter the age of “Conversation Video.” More like content marketing blogs and newsletters, these videos will have low production values and expectations but engage niche audiences with useful information.
    I see this happening as YouTube search will exceed Google search as the number one search mechanism.
    Not an earth shattering thought by any means, but the real strength to most marketers will be in this type of video.

  6. Very nice post.
    I think three things matter when it comes to making a video viral –
    1. Originality – video needs to communicate something that is authentic.
    2. Emotional – I agree with the point here. Emotions make the viral nature of videos a lot stronger, and much more effective.
    3. Keep it natural.

  7. As usual Mitch, you are right on the money. Unless a video evokes geniune feelings in its viewer, there ain’t no way it’s going viral. There are some pretty pathetic attempts out there and you can just envision the meetings that went on leading up to the launch of the video – (boss) what we need is a viral video…(team) yeah! I was just reading Scott Stratten’s viral video case studies at and while they may not be your cup of tea (very ….sweeeet), there is no doubt that they worked because they resonated with people on an emotional level. Thanks as always for an interesting read Mitch.

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