This being the week after the Super Bowl, you might expect my Viral Round Up to be filled with the best commercials.  But you’d be wrong.  Mostly this is because  I have a rather strict definition of “viral” marketing… one that makes it hard for me to include a video that first played for a television audience of over 100 million viewers. I don’t know about you, but if all my viral video attempts could have that kind of head start, I’d be rich.  There is some Super Bowl flavor in this Round Up, however, and one Super Bowl spot made it through for a very specific reason.  But I chose to continue focusing on videos that gained a huge audience almost entirely via the web.

Without further ado, let’s dive in to this week’s examples of viral success:

The Muppets Rule

I may not be going out on too lonely a limb here, but I think it’s nearly time to declare that The Muppets are back.  First they had that Bohemian Rhapsody “cover”, which still ranks as one of my favorite viral videos of all of 2009.  And there’s increasing buzz online for the upcoming new Muppet movie—written by How I Met Your Mother star, Jason Segal, and rumored to be titled “The Greatest Muppet Movie Of All Time.”

And now we have a new viral offering:  Beaker’s Ballad.  At first, I expected another hilarious send-up of a classic song.  And indeed, Beaker starts out playing Dust In The Wind (a song for which he appears properly dressed).  But the “joke” of the video actually goes in an entirely different direction, choosing to lampoon the call-outs and comments that are now commonplace on YouTube videos.  See for yourself:

We don’t all have the luxury of starting our viral projects with a known comedic entity like The Muppets.  In a way, it’s a bit of an unfair advantage.  But that doesn’t make the creative genius behind these viral videos any less impressive.  The Muppets themselves have proven you can’t just put something Muppet-related together and call it a guaranteed hit (see the Muppets’ Wizard Of Oz television movie for proof).

This video works—much like the Bohemian Rhapsody clip—because… drum roll please… it’s funny.

Obviously, if you have a gigantic budget, you could consider hiring a known comedic entity to star in your next viral offering.  But if you’re like 99% of us in this business, your budget constraints are too tight.  In that case, the lesson is… be funny.  People like things that are genuinely creative and funny. We like to laugh—and even more important, for viral efforts at least, we like to then share those laughs with others.

The Herculean Effort

Have you heard about this T-Shirt War video?  If not, you’re in for a treat.  Rather than set the video up, it’s something that is best experienced blind:

Now, there are many things at work here that I’ve preached about before.  This video has several components that hit certain viral triggers.  First, there’s the stop-motion angle.  For whatever reason, stop-motion animation is enjoying quite the revival in the world of online video.

Second, this video is funny.  The stars are charming, and there are “jokes” in the story that promote laughter quite nicely.

Third, there’s a huge amount of creativity involved.  Videos like these can launch careers, solely on the basis of the creativity potential they display.

Finally—and, I think, most importantly—the video quite clearly took hours and hours, if not days, to film.  They actually used a different t-shirt for every frame—there’s no CGI or “animation” at work.  I don’t even want to think about the cost in having 300 T-shirts printed, each with a unique design.  My guess would be these guys have dabbled in silk-screening before—or they have a friend who does.

This is one of those videos that succeed in large part because of the respect that viewers instantly have for the Herculean effort that clearly went into its creation.  Similar to the video we featured previously that turned a Jeep Cherokee into a techno song, there is no denying that these guys spent a huge amount of time in planning and executing this video.

They’ve also earned points in my book as online marketers for following up the piece with a video explaining how they did it—and they’re also smartly selling the t-shirts featured in the spot.  Good business sense here from these two.

When you consider their hard work, and then toss in the humor, the stop-motion aspect, and the raw creativity… it was almost a sure thing to be a smash hit.

Dorito’s Wins Big

Our third and final featured viral video comes courtesy of the Dorito’s Crash The Super Bowl contest.  The contest, which we have discussed before, solicited Dorito’s commercials from amateurs like you and me.  They then allowed the masses to vote on each spot, with the voting determining which ones would actually air during the big game.

And Dorito’s scored big with this promotion, with several of their ads rating highly among viewers.  Their best-performing ad was rated the #2 spot in the entire game by USAToday’s Super Bowl Ad Meter.

Here it is:

Okay, so I could break down what makes this video popular if you want me to:  it’s humorous… it involves a dog (and a dog doing something un-dog-like at that), etc.

But the real reason I’m writing about this as a viral success story (and it has over a million views on YouTube, which does sound like a success to me) is the fact that it involved nobodies like you and me.  Dorito’s intentionally reached out to the online video creating community—as they have for a few years now—and courted their involvement.  And Dorito’s has gotten exposure from the contest and the ads that is hard to argue with.  This is actually the first year that “user-generated” seems to have actually succeeded.  Sure, there have been previous user-generated Super Bowl spots, but none has rated as the second best ad of the entire evening.  That’s quite a feat.  (The number one ad, if you’re curious, was the Betty-White-playing-football spot from Snickers).  It gives me even more hope that online video is actually going to turn the entertainment industry on its ear like it’s been promising for so long.  Whoever the ad agencies are that created the spots that ranked #3-#10… they probably feel pretty stupid right now seeing an amateur out rank them.

In summary:

  1. Be funny.  I cannot tell you how hard it’s going to be to achieve viral success with a boring, serious video.
  2. Be creative and work very, very hard at it… people will notice and appreciate it.
  3. Tap into the masses.  Maybe they work for you.  Maybe they’re your customers.  But the best ideas don’t have to be expensive or come from professionals anymore.

Honorable Mention:

  • I also wanted to feature this Google spot—which is rather monumental—because it’s simple, charming, and so freaking well done.
  • And I wish I’d found a way to include this Old Spice commercial, which many are saying would have rated among the best had it actually run during the Super Bowl.

Until next week… best of luck to you in your viral efforts.  I hope our case-studies are helping you hone your craft.