Marketers Need to Understand the Power of Viral Videos

Viral VideoOrganizations approach us wanting an online video presence, and typically choose the path of Client Testimonials, Product Demos, or something similar. Those are great choices, but the road less taken to brand loyalty is the Viral Video.


1. Youth is still the magic demographic for marketers, and news flash, this generation of young people watch way less television than generations before. Millenials are too busy watching videos on YouTube. They typically don’t care who made those videos, or if they have an agenda, as long as the video is entertaining. If your company wants to boost its coolness factor while making a great first impression, then it is hard to ignore the viral video format.

2. They are cheap to produce. At least compared to other formats of online video or television. Weigh the cost of making a slick TV commercial with actors, a set, props, a big crew, and the ad time needed to air it versus twenty-five or so viral videos. Out of that large group of videos maybe you decide six will have a holiday shopping season theme, three a St. Patrick’s Day theme, and so on. This means you make a viral video whenever you want, which leads to the next point.

3. Saturday Night Live, the late night gang (Letterman, Kimmel, Stewart, etc.), The Soup, and South Park are trendsetting shows because their sense of humor is smart, edgy, and most importantly – relevant. They all address topics in today’s news cycle. The typical sitcom or commercial is in the can months prior to airing. That is why Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin is buzz worthy and even perception altering, and the plot of Two and a Half Men is not. Your company should harness the same trendsetting power using viral videos.

4. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert discuss complicated issues using a variety of short format videos. Jimmy Kimmel and Joel McHale depend on short format videos in their shows. Why do they rely so heavily on this format? Because sophisticated ideas are easier to digest in video format than in text. Luckily, as you’ll see in the Getting Noticed section, viral video works best in short format.

5. Expanding on point four, it is much easier to create an emotional response with a viral video than text. Unless crafted by a truly gifted writer, text doesn’t make people dance, sing, cry, or laugh the same way a good viral video does.

6. A viral videos is easier on social media eyes than a traditional corporate video. As people relax and look at photos of their friends on Facebook, they aren’t interested in watching serious stuff. They want a short funny viral video that fits in line with their current thought process & attention span. Case in point, NBC has really embraced viral videos. To gain new viewers for one of the best sitcoms on TV, The Office, they create viral videos with its characters in situations that don’t air on the show. New late night host Jimmy Fallon even gears all his segments to play like viral videos, hoping they catch on the following day with an audience that was unable to stay up late enough to see his show.

7. The distribution of viral videos is changing rapidly. You can now watch YouTube from your Tivo. And don’t forget about cell phones. A couple years ago people use to only call each other, take pictures, or listen to music. But, with larger high resolution screens and an easy to install YouTube application, cell phones have evolved into a viral video friendly platform.

8. Corporate product videos have grown because companies can showcase their product without the aide of salespeople. Corporate viral videos should be growing because they can showcase a company’s personality just as easily and quickly.

9. A good viral video is everlasting. If the video is clever and funny today, odds are good it will still be clever and funny 5 or even 25 years from now. Furthermore, your potential audience is huge, and viewers can be watching it half way across the world while your firm’s employees are asleep.

10. If you build a position by making multiple everlasting videos, you become a part of people’s daily routine. For example, the “Will It Blend” series by Blendtec keep its audience coming back regularly to see which object will get get demolished next.


So you are a believer, but aren’t sure what will work. Producing material your audience wants to see is paramount. There is so much competition, boring material will quickly get lost forever. Corporate viral videos need the right mix of great content, execution, and promotion to get noticed. But be careful, you don’t want to shove the video down people’s throats. A major component of a viral video is the feeling people get when they stumble across something unique. They love sharing the feeling from watching that unique video with their friends. So what common factors can be found in the viral videos people share?


Content Rules

1.    Funny is king in the world of viral. Lorne Michaels realized the power of the viral video, and let Andy Samberg go crazy with SNL digital shorts.  That decision paid off in a big way with hits like “Dick in a Box.”

2.    Music (Jonah Rocks), Dancing (Evolution of Dance) and Inspirational (Susan Boyle) are other popular themes.

3.    E*Trade provides a good example of unusual juxtaposition: a baby talking and trading stocks. Another example, a cat playing the piano.

4.    Which segues into our next rule. Babies & Animals are both great characters for viral videos. The cuter the better. There is a reason Super Bowl commercials are saturated with chimps, babies/young kids, and clydesdales. Commercials and viral videos share a lot in common.

5.    People like the anticipation of being scared. Think about the buzz The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity received. Those are two of Hollywood’s biggest rags to riches stories due in large part to the buzz generated prior to release. The thrill of being scared works in viral videos as well. Remember the reaction to UFO’s flying over Haiti?

6.    If all else fails, sex sells in any medium. Even boring commercials.

7.    If all else still fails, parody a successful video. Long before there was Jersey Shore, there wasMy new hair cut.”  This video spawned tons of parody videos that back drafted off the original’s success. Many of the parodies themselves got over a million views, including one that has almost 5 million hits!

Execution Rules

8.    Short is usually best. TV is very passive and the Internet is not. Viral videos need to capture audience attention immediately. The longer the video runs, the harder it is to keep viewers engaged. Dramatic Chipmunk is only 5 seconds long! This short simple viral video was the core concept in this year’s Carmax Super Bowl ads.

9.    You want fans of the video to have the ability to use your material to create their own remix versions. The song that made Tay Zonday an Internet phenom with “Chocolate Rain” was remixed for a new product launch of Cherry Chocolate Dr. Pepper.

10.    I’ve used a lot of examples from TV Commercials primarily because the Super Bowl commercials are fresh in everyone’s head, but remember this is not a flashy TV commercial. You don’t need to make it look like one. Make it look like a gem in the rough. TV Commercials have a lot of edits, transitions, and graphics. Viral videos are sometimes done in one shot on a consumer camera, or at least made to look that way.

11.    Hollywood studios overdub or subtitle movies to release around the world. If you have a successful viral video that has universal appeal, translate or subtitle it to increase the size of your online audience.

EXERCISE: Mix and match these 11 rules to get the creative juices flowing: Lets say you are a gum company with a big budget for a viral video. Use rules 1,3, 4, 6 to create a viral video concept with a supermodel chewing gum while balancing an elephant on her pinkie finger in outer space. Oh, and the elephant is chewing gum too of course. Not a cheap viral video, and it doesn’t follow rule 10, but it would certainly generate buzz.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical. The goal is for your video/content to spread like wildfire to new audiences. Setting up proper SEO gives you the best chance for those new audiences to find your video quickly and easily.

Video SEO is similar to website SEO and the rules listed below apply to all online videos, including viral. If you’re not all that familiar with SEO, check out this article for an overview. Some of these tips are for large organizations, others for small business, and some fit both.

1.    Use Clear Titles – Picking the right title gives you an enormous advantage getting noticed, but don’t use misleading phrases like “leaked video” to generate excitement and clicks. It can backfire when your audience feels tricked.

2.    Provide an Accurate Description – Include a call to action directing viewers back to your website or possibly to a contest you are throwing in conjunction with your viral video.

3.    Choose the Right Keyword Tags – Use Google Adwords for help compiling a complete list.

4.    Generate Back Links

a.     Email bloggers that relate to your viral video.

b.    Submit video to social bookmarking sites. TubeMogul can really help to make this step quick and easy.

The eight most popular social bookmarking websites online: 1. Twitter, 2. Digg, 3. Yahoo Buzz                  4. TweetMeme 5. StumleUpon 6. Reddit 7. Technorati, 8.

c.     Submit a Press Release. Some good free places to submit Press Releases include: 1888PressReleases, ClickPress, 24-7PressRelease, PRLeap

d.    Post the video using your company’s social media presence, like on your company’s Facebook Fan page. Certain social media platforms carry more weight than others. Here is the length of time people watch videos from different sources according to Tubemogul: Twitter 1:58, Facebook 1:14 , and Digg :58.

Highlights from top eight back linked online videos of all time: 1. Susan Boyle Performs on Britain’s Got Talent 2. Rick Astley’s Rick Roll 3. Judson Laipply’s Evolution of Dance 6. Free Hugs Campaign 7. Ok Go Treadmill 8. Michael Jackson’s Thriller

5.   Generate Views

a.     Do what you can the old fashioned way by emailing friends and family a link to the video. Ask them to help by sending it to their friends or posting it to their Facebook page. You could also include a link to the video in your email signature.

b.    If you need more help with views, a paid method might be the right option. Just make sure you know what you’re buying and you’re setting yourself up for a good ROI. YouTube Promoted Videos provides one approach for getting your video in front of more eyes. uSocial can also deliver views, but buyer beware, they may not be the views you want!

Three Viral Videos that had an effect on the 2008 Presidential Election: 1. and Friends’ tribute to Obama “Yes, We Can”  2. The powerful “Dear Mr. Obama” from Joe Cook and team on the war in Iraq  3. “I Got a Crush….On Obama” by, of course, Obama Girl


YouTube SEO has similar characteristics to regular video SEO. A proper title, keyword tags, description, and back links are all still important. However there are other factors that contribute to a high ranking in the YouTube search results.

1.    The most obvious factor in YouTube SEO is the video’s number of views.  But don’t be fooled, the factors below are not far behind in importance.

2.    Number of ratings the video has received. The higher the rating, and the more ratings a video receives boost YouTube SEO juice.

3.    The number of comments, good or bad. The more lively the discussion under the video is, the more likely people will keep coming back to see if others have posted a comment.

4.    How recently the video was submitted. YouTube’s complex algorithms favor new videos in their search results. Take advantage of a new upload, because unless your content is a runaway hit, it’ll get harder and harder to rank high on the list over time.

5.    Now we are getting into the areas that are truly overlooked. Is the video uploaded from a YouTube Channel? If so, how many views does the channel itself have? For example, Green Buzz Agency has a channel. If our current viral video with Julia Dales has a lot of hits, then it will increase the SEO for all the other videos in the Green Buzz Agency channel.

6.    The number of subscribers to the channel. This indicates that the channel continually posts worthy content and is rewarded by people who have bookmarked the Channel. It is similar to a website’s SEO increasing when its fans bookmark the site in

7.    How active is the owner of the YouTube Channel? YouTube rewards active owners, the more you manage and maintain your channel, the better.

8.    How all the other videos in the channel perform in the areas listed above.

GBA is using our current Viral Video featuring Julia Dales to maximize our website & YouTube SEO. Check back in a couple months for a case study on what worked best for us!


The ultimate goal of any company venturing into the world of Viral Video should be to build a long-term position for your brand. Sure, the buzz you generate with a one-hit video is great. But once you’ve invested the time, money and effort into building an audience, you should continue to utilize it. After a couple well-conceived, well-executed videos, your audience will start seeking out your content. Viral Video is no different than any other marketing tactic – the goal is brand loyalty.

There are many other tricks of the trade. If you liked this primer, be sure to come back next month when Green Buzz Agency will have a complete and downloadable guide to Viral Videos featuring more tips, strategies and facts. In the mean time, check in weekly for more Marketing & Video blog posts, and of course new viral videos from Green Buzz Agency!

Tod Plotkin is Principal at Green Buzz Agency. Despite moving to Washington, DC in 1999, he still misses following the Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox on a daily basis. His passion for video production is equaled by his love of peanut butter and jelly. Connect with Tod on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter @GreenBuzzAgency.

  • Viral videos are great, but not very appropriate for businesses.
    First of all what makes a video viral is:
    scantily clad women with guns
    rednecks doing stupid things with vehicles and appliances
    natural and not so natural disasters
    off color and politically incorrect comments
    bad versions of pop songs

    Is your brand ready to do any of these? I video with obvious corporate overtones is an automatic failure because it’s seen as a marketing endeavor right away. Exploding Coke bottles was not created by Coke or Skittles. Neither would have approved it as it was not sales driving or brand elevating. The only videos with viral impact that have been used by major brands (Chocolate Rain for Dr. Pepper, Trans Siberian Orchestra home Xmas light show for Budweiser) were viral before they were used by brands, and went nowhere when brands used them. All of the other viral videos shown in your blog and mentioned were consumer generated.

    When agencies talk about creating viral videos clients think they’ll be getting millions of views from word of mouth. That is not what will happen. As many people that would watch their commercial on YouTube would watch their viral video, they won’t generate the same kind of traffic.

    Submitting a press release, tagging for SEO, and pushing on bloggers is a sure giveaway that it is a marketing gimmick and will turn off viewers immediately. The only brand spots that get any visibility are either from Does it Blend, because they put EVERYTHING in their blender, not the best way to show it off to their homemaker target audience, and European commercials, mostly because of their nudity, sexual humor, and the kind of edginess that American brands are scared to death of.

    If you’re an edgy brand or a brand that is willing to put your brand perception on the line, I encourage you to do stupid and dangerous things, videotape them, post them on YouTube without a link. They may go viral. But, do you want that? If you’re a skateboard manufacturer or Comedy Central, sure. If you sell anything not targeted toward gamers, sports fanatics or teenagers, probably not.

    February 9, 2010 at 9:01 pm
  • Great article — thanks! Thought it was very interesting that people on Twitter will watch a video for almost twice as long as someone on Digg… very interesting! Of course, the flip side of that is the people on Digg will only watch for half as long…

    February 9, 2010 at 11:26 pm
  • Bill Zave

    Good article. I particularly agree with points 2, 3, and 6 in the first section. Would like to see those points expanded upon if possible?

    February 19, 2010 at 4:04 pm
  • Nice! I enjoyed reading that 😀

    March 10, 2010 at 1:21 am
  • “The most obvious factor in YouTube SEO is the video’s number of views.” – This is so true and that is why I am using a self developed tool for increasing my youtube views lol Great article by the way. Most of the points you mentioned are so practical.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm
  • I’ve had some mixed feelings on viral marketing. First and foremost, viral marketing if a success is not economically sustainable, nor is it sustainable in lamest terms. Secondly, depending on your goals, viral marketing only generates short term success while the viral effect itself is still taking place. Perfect example here would be the Old Spice Guy from a few months back. During the campaign that became a viral hit, everything from numbers on awareness to sales rose significantly. However, once the viral efforts ceased and everything went back to normal, the numbers post-viral went back to pre-viral levels. The reason for this and my final point is that viral marketing is in fact very similar to biological viruses. These things come and go. Although they had an effect while they existed, the fact of reality is that after viral effects, everything goes back to normal. Viral marketing would in fact be a great aspect to an overall marketing campaign as a element to it. But on its own, viral marketing has no longer term effects unless you continually feed the effect or build upon it.
    .-= Josip Petrusa´s last blog ..For Millennials- Online Friends Are Real Friends =-.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:40 am
  • Great article – candidly written and informative!

    May 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm
  • Hi

    These harlem shake youtube vids are awesome… A company in my field just put one out and then it’s like everyone in the industry followed. Gotta get on the band wagon 🙂

    February 13, 2013 at 4:03 pm
  • This was on TV last night, Mysteries of the Museum. Love that Program!

    September 25, 2014 at 1:42 am
  • Great article – thanks! Think it is quite interesting that individuals on Twitter will see a video for nearly two times as lengthy as someone on Digg… quite interesting! Obviously, the switch side of that’s the folks on Digg is only going to watch out for half as long…

    January 14, 2016 at 6:07 am

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