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Growing up in the early 2000s, spending hours watching videos on youtube was like a right of passage. Whether it was watching “Charlie Bit My Finger” or “Gangnam Style”, viral videos were fundamentally as important to my teenage years as toys were to my childhood. But, if Youtube wasn’t founded until 2005, how did videos become viral before then?

One of the first viral videos, “The Spirit of Christmas” was actually created in 1995 by two unknown filmmakers at the time, Matt Stone and Trey Parker,  who later became the creators of South Park. This video was passed around on VHS tapes until a few years later when some fans decided to upload the video to the internet. VHS tapes – I know. Other viral videos were spread through email and print ads. Yes, I said email.

The ability of a video to go viral existed well before 2005. However, the creation of Youtube unleashed a new potential for videos to be shared, spread, and watched 20 times on a continuous loop when you have nothing else to do. Just me?

How the Creation of Youtube Changed Viral Videos

What even is a viral video anyway? The formal definition is a video that becomes popular through a viral process of Internet sharing, typically through video sharing platforms, such as Youtube, social media and even email. To add to that definition, I’d say that for a video to be considered as having gone viral, it must also have at least 1 million views. The more views, the more viral it is – and Youtube has made that all the more possible.

On February 14th, 2005 the world was introduced to Youtube. 2 months after the creation of youtube the first video was uploaded by one of its co-founders. This simple 19-second video of the San Diego Zoo took the world by storm. Today, that very same video has 61 Million views.

Youtube has made it easier than ever to upload videos. After all, that’s what technology does, right? It’s meant to make tasks easier.

What started out as a simple video-uploading platform has into a brand that has taken the world by storm. Youtube remains of the most used websites in the world. Not only is it used by everyday people like you and me, but celebrities have taken to Youtube as well. It’s ease of use, combined with its ability to reach people from all over the world, is what has allowed Youtube to change the game when it comes to viral videos.

My Top 10 Viral Videos

According to the stats, the most viewed youtube video ever is the music video for “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, with a remarkable 6 BILLION views. Not million, billion.

While this was a music video that turned into an internet sensation, there are also many other kinds of videos, ranging from company advertisements to candid kid moments captured on camera, that have also struck gold on screen.

Here’s a look at my top 10 viral videos with my favorite being embedded:

  1. Dollar Shave Club: Our Blades Are F***ing Great
  2. E-Trade: Talking Baby 
  3. Budweiser: Best Buds 
  4. Doritos: Time Machine
  5. Geico: Squirrels
  6. David After the Dentist 
  7. Rick Rolled Song 
  8. Grape Stomping Lady 
  9. Talking Twin Babies 
  10. Walmart Yodeling Kid 

Each of these videos has something about them that makes them stand out from all of the other videos on the internet, social media or Youtube. What I like about these videos is that they are all funny, unique, creative and really play with your emotions in some kind of way. Whether it’s the E-Trade commercial with a talking baby that still makes me laugh 11 years after it was originally aired or the Doritos’ ad that makes you wish that you too had a time machine that ran on Doritos; these videos all have the key elements necessary to make a good, viral video.

Key Elements of a Viral Video

So, what are those key elements?

The first element of a good viral video is that it isn’t overly promotional. It shouldn’t solely talk about a product’s features, benefits or pricing. Think about it. How many commercials that only talk logistics actually grab your attention? The answer is probably slim to none.

Another key component of a viral video is that it tells some kind of story. Have you ever seen a commercial that made you so inspired to do something? This commercial may have featured a heartwarming moment between two people or told an unforgettable story about somebody overcoming all odds and beating adversity.

The ability of a video to tell is a story ties in with the next important aspect of a viral video – the ability to connect with emotions. Those videos that hit you right in your feels are often the ones that are the most popular. Whether the emotion that the video brings out is one of happiness, sadness, inspiration or motivation, emotions are what get people to not only watch your video the whole way through but share it with others. If people are emotionally invested in the story that is being told, it will relate to them and leave a lasting imprint.

Additionally, a good viral video needs to do the unexpected. This is often something that most brands tend to shy away from doing; they’re afraid of the negative backlash that may come with thinking, and acting, outside of the box. However, this is a risk that some of the most successful companies have taken.

Last but not least, having a killer promotional strategy is such a crucial part of making a video go viral. You might be wondering where to start, and the answer is SEO. Definitely start with SEO. When you upload your video, be sure to use the keywords from the video on your website and landing page as well. Then, once the page is set, you need to promote it. Share it on social media, use catchy and relevant hashtags, post at the most advantageous times and pay for ads to get people to see your video. If you really want your video to go viral, you can even send it to a media/publishing site and post it to forums to get a large audience on board. You’d be surprised – a lot of work actually goes into making a video viral.

The Value of Viral Content to Marketing and How to Actually Pull it Off

As a marketing agency, we’ve heard our fair share of “I want a viral video!” That’s basically like saying “I want to win the lottery.”

While viral content can have huge benefits for an organization or individual, it really is like catching lightning in a bottle. The value of video content in marketing has become incredibly strong, and this should be your goal. Your goal should be to produce content with the aim of reaching as many people as possible. Build it around the needs/desires of your target persona(s) and make sure it conveys the tone you want your brand to portray. If the end result is that your video goes viral, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

With that being said, there are definitely some things to take into consideration when thinking of what kind of content to produce if you want a captivating, and potentially viral, video. Humor tends to be a big factor in determining whether or not something really hits the mark in the digital space. The element of surprise doesn’t hurt either. Ultimately, you have to be more willing to take a risk – the whiteboard video of one of your engineers explaining your solutions isn’t going to cut it unless maybe he does it while lit on fire in a tank full of hungry sharks. (DSM does not condone this idea…fully)

Quite honestly, there is no perfect formula for creating a viral video. Taking all of these factors into consideration will certainly help to put you on the right path. Who knows – if you take our notes to heart, you might just find yourself famous with a killer piece of content to go along with it. While not everyone can create a viral video, we can definitely all learn from those who have. So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, have fun with the process, and may the viral odds be ever in your favor.