This has been one of the busier weeks for viral video that I can remember… at least in terms of the sheer volume of buzzed-about vids.  Let’s jump right into our look at three of the best, breaking them down to find their recipe for success.

The Super Achievement

You may remember the last time the band OK Go made our Viral Round Up—it was only about six weeks ago.  It was their new music video for a song called “This Too Shall Pass,” and it involved a marching band.  The reason we wrote about it then was the controversy surrounding the video—the band’s record label had refused to allow the embed feature on YouTube for the piece, dramatically decreasing its overall viewership.  This was odd to me, because OK Go is considered one of the small family of viral pioneers (due to their treadmills video, which you can see here if you have just returned from a long stint on the International Space Station and have somehow missed it).

The band even wrote some web articles about the video and the label’s decision to disallow embedding.

Now, a few short weeks later, they’ve released another viral gem.  It’s actually a new music video for the same song, “This Too Shall Pass.”  And this one’s embeddable!

I could probably write pages and pages of why this video has succeeded, but the absolute best way to communicate the keys to this thing’s rapid rise is to just show it to you:

I can’t even comprehend the amount of effort that went into that—that’s not hyperbole, by the way… I seriously can’t wrap my head around how hard they must have worked.  First, and most obviously, it is probably the biggest-scale Rube Goldberg machine I’ve ever seen.  It’s certainly the most inventive and whimsical.

But there’s also the pesky timing of the actual filming.  It certainly appears to be all one giant tracking shot.  Those kinds of shots are hard to pull off in Hollywood movies when it’s just a scene of people talking.  Considering how many things had to go right for this to work in one solid take, it’s pretty obvious that they had multiple takes before nailing it.  In fact, at the video’s start, you’ll see each band member covered in paint, indicating they’d already tried this a few times.

The biggest marvel to me, however, is the timing of the music to the activities.  There are clear moments when parts of the Rube Goldberg machine cause noises that are perfectly in rhythm with the song.  For example, wind the video back to the tilted wooden board where all the silver marbles tumble down.  Watch that section again, and you’ll see each pair of marbles makes their clicking sound in near-exact synchronized timing with the song’s percussion.  And there are several moments like this throughout the video.

It is one of the most ambitious things I’ve ever seen—which only makes its execution that much more impressive.  I thought the Jeep Cherokee DJs and the T-Shirt War guys were clever and hard working… but this here is on an entirely different level.  Against all odds, I think OK Go has actually outdone themselves and created something that will ultimately be even more popular than their original treadmill piece.

Perhaps ironic is the fact that the video’s purported reason for existing—as a music video—goes entirely by the wayside.  I can’t even tell you much about what the song sounds like, because every time I watch it I’m so engrossed in the visual I barely notice the audio.  It’s almost like the song is secondary.

There are so many reasons for this video’s popularity—it’s nearing 4 Million views on its fourth day of existence.  Some of those reasons are familiar to readers of this column:  creativity, hard work, humor, etc.  And I don’t care at all that the band has a built-in following—this video would have gone insanely viral even if they were complete unknowns… it is that good.

The Slow Motion

One of my favorite shows in the last couple years is called Time Warp.  It’s on The Discovery Channel.  It basically involves a couple guys with super-high frame rate HD video cameras… going around filming stuff.  Then they play back the video at super slow speed and generally my mind is blown.  I’ve seen them show glass breaking, samurai swords slicing through things, a human being breaking planks with karate… and every one of them was infinitely more entertaining slowed down (and in HD).

It was only a matter of time before this kind of thing started creeping into other entertainment genres, though I never would have pegged Pedigree (the dog food company) as the most likely ones to take advantage of such technology.  Frankly, if I hadn’t already been a fan of Time Warp, I might not have even clicked on the link to view “slow motion video of dogs catching treats.”  It may not sound like great entertainment, but I believe your mind will be changed when you watch it:

What I like about this viral success is the lack of creativity, if you will.  Pedigree’s not reinventing the wheel.  Dog food companies have been using cute dogs to sell dog food for longer than I’ve been alive.  Rather than stray too far outside the box, Pedigree simply asked, “What would happen if we did what we usually do… only we filmed it in high-speed HD?”

It can be pretty easy to step outside yourself as a brand when you shoot for viral success.  Heck, I’m the one writing here every week about how you should be creative and inventive and original.  And yet… that can go too far.  Sometimes a success story can come from simply plugging one tiny new idea into a tested-and-proved older formula.

Cute dog videos abound… the cute dogs aren’t really what makes this popular.  Cute dog videos in slow-motion, however, are a relative minority.  Showing us something we’re used to seeing, but seeing in a slightly new or altered way, is a great strategy.  Think about what your business does… think about how your customers are used to seeing you. Now… think about what wrinkle you can add to the mix that might change their perspective entirely and show off your company in a new and flattering light.

The Creativity Contest

Our final video, entitled “Lego – The Force Unleashed” is a very entertaining bit of amateur filmmaking.  An online community of stop-motion filmmakers, called Bricks In Motion, decided to hold a contest for their members to see who could create the best lightsaber duel.

One participant posted his video to YouTube about a week ago, and it’s nearing 300,000 views as of the writing of this post.  I haven’t seen all the other entries… but this one should probably win:

I’ve talked about stop-motion before… maybe too much.  It is still enjoying quite a bit of resurgent popularity these days, and many viral videos find popularity just on the merit of having been filmed in stop-motion.  We’ve also talked a lot about creativity and talent and humor—all three of which can be found in the video above.

What I like most about this viral success story is that the brand most likely to benefit from it—Lego—wasn’t even involved in its creation.  They didn’t hire this guy to make it… they didn’t initiate the contest.  But they’re laughing all the way to the bank.  This is fantastic advertising for Lego, and they didn’t have to pay one penny or spend one man-hour creating it.  How do you know your brand has connected in a deep, deep way with your core audience? When they handle your advertising for you… that’s how.

Honorable Mention:

Seems a shame to not mention: