YouTube was barely a year old when OK GO became its first viral music video superstars on July 31, 2006, with their video “Here It Goes Again”. The video got over 1 million views in less than six days and, the 'Treadmill Video' is still one of the most successful, and recognizable viral music videos ever seen on YouTube. OK GO is still putting out viral hits, with their most recent optical illusion video "Writing's On The Wall", gaining almost 10 million views in its first month. Their music videos on YouTube have been watched more than 218 million times and several of their videos have upwards of 20 million views, thus making them the masters of viral music videos.
While you can't guarantee or predict what will go viral, there are several lessons that can be learned from OK GO's viral music video strategy. Let's take a look at 5 of the strategies that have really worked for them.
#1 They Hooked Us With Innovative Choreography
OK GO's first music video was “A Million Ways”, which was choreographed by the lead singer’s sister, Trish Sie. The premise of the video was the band dancing to creative and difficult choreography in one take. It was popular because nobody had ever done something like this before and the choreography was impressive. Everyone likes to dance and great choreography will help a video rise to the top. Recent examples of this include the Harlem Shake and Beyonce's 'Partition'.
The Harlem Shake didn't have difficult choreography but it was compelling and easy to perform so people copied it and made fan videos. Partition is especially unique because it shot to the top of the Hot 100 back in February without being released as a single or to streaming services because of professional choreography tribute videos.
#2 They Kept It Simple
They followed up with their second viral hit “Here It Goes Again”. This one was also choreographed by Trish Sie and featured the band dancing on treadmills (see above). In less than a week, the video had been watched a million times. That's more than 1.5 views a second! Before the video was taken down in 2009 and reposted through VEVO, it had accrued over 52 million views. What made this video interesting is that it built on their previous video of a one shot choreographed dance but it made it a little more difficult by throwing treadmills into the mix. The video works because it focuses on the treadmills and doesn't add too many distractions.
Keeping your video simple makes it easier for fan videos to tie into the original video and spin off it. Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" video focuses her riding a wrecking ball and contained easily replicated shots of Miley's face singing the song and her holding a sledge hammer. Another example is the fan video combination of original "Lisztomania" video and the Breakfast Club Brat Pack mashup video . Fans took the geographical significance of the original video and the choreography of the second video and created videos of them dancing the brat pack dance in their respective cities.
#3 They Made Use of State-of-the-art Technology
After they got tired of dancing, OK made several technologically advanced videos using everything from computer imaging technology, to laser engraved toast, and hybird human-technology dancing. We are living in the golden age of technology and everyone is waiting to be impressed by the next big tech advancement.
Arcade Fire has had a lot of success with this strategy, especially with their most recent "Reflektor" music video which allows you to interact with the music video through the camera on your computer and your phone. Cut Copy's music video for "We Are Explorers" was made with over 200 3-D printed figurines, which they made available for others to print and create their own videos through a bittorrent bundle.
There are also several drone music videos that have helped unknown acts go viral because people are interested in seeing new technology in action. One popular video takes you inside a fireworks show and another takes advantage of a drone's unique movements.
#4 They Made the Content Relatable
Another simple strategy, that should also underpin your entire music strategy, is to make the video as relatable as possible. Music naturally invokes an emotional response and so will a successful video. Chronologically, OK GO's next video was for "This Too Shall Pass" and for this video they made a huge Rube Goldberg Machine that smashed a piano, catapulted humans, shot paint and more! The alternate video also took something familiar, like marching band and cheering for school sports, and gave it a twist. The one of the most popular music videos of all time Justin Beiber's "Baby" depicts a very familiar high school scene of being out with your friends and capturing the attention of love interest.
#5 They Exaggerated Everything
Anyone can make a music video of a band playing on stage in a beautiful theater, but why not take it to the next level and play the song using a car equipped with pneumatic arms that strikes over 1000 instruments as it drives through an obstacle course? OK GO chose the later for their video "Needing/Getting" and got over 28 million views for it. Everyone is familiar with the standard music video so to capture viewer's attention you need to really create something big.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis's music video for "Thrift Shop" takes thrift shopping and turns it into scene shopping. It's outrageous with shots of thick fur coats, dancing in the aisles, and tacky outfits. The video works because you never know what ridiculous shot will come up next.
The second rule to creating a viral video was Keep It Simple and this may seem counterintuitive, but it is possible to do both. In the "Here It Goes Again" video, they exaggerate dancing byt doing it on a treadmill, but it stays focused on the novelty of dancing on treadmills. "Wrecking Ball" is another great example. It stays simple by focusing an a few things and is exaggerated because Miley swings across the screen nude on a wrecking ball!
Viral videos are impossible to predict but following these 5 tips will help increase your odds of creating a video that people want to share, parody, and watch over and over again.