What Does A Viral Video Cost and How Do You Make One?

What Does A Viral Video Cost and How Do You Make One?

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When speaking of viral marketing for brands and businesses, the two questions I hear most frequently are “how much do online videos or viral videos cost?” and “what are the steps involved?” Pricing can vary depending on quite a few factors and there really is no set standard so I’ll start by going over the 4 key elements and back into the pricing.

A successful viral video is one that begs to be shared again and again. As opposed to traditional “paid media” buys like TV and radio where once you stop paying the spot stops playing, viral and social media marketing are often referred to as “earned media,” in that content remains on the web for a long time, at no additional cost and continues to be shared even after the initial campaign push is over. Getting lots of views is easy but how accurately your video is focused to reach your target demographic, how far that video spreads and how well your message resonates depend on either careful planning or lots of luck. The latter does not typically test well with most CMOs.

Creating, producing and launching a successful branded video, web series or viral video involves more than thinking up a funny idea and grabbing a camera so the first thing I’ll do is break down the overall steps and costs into 4 categories:

  1. Establishing Goals and Strategy
  2. Creative
  3. Production
  4. Viral Video Marketing & Seeding

The success of your campaign will depend on productively focusing on each of these categories.

Goals and Strategy

The most effective approach is to establish your goal(s) and define your strategy before developing the creative concepts. This will better ensure that you have clearly defined objectives in mind by the time you create, produce and launch your video campaign. This also helps marketing directors, brand managers, PR and social media directors and others responsible for the success of the video quantify their return on investment (ROI) at the end of the campaign when the results are measured against the goals.

First, establish the ultimate, end-game goals of the viral video and define the key strategic steps along the way, What do you want to happen as a result of the campaign and how will you get there?

  • Goals: What are the Campaign goals to be achieved including product and brand awareness, measurable engagement, overall product sentiment, sales, traffic?
  • Conversions: What is the post-view action you want viewers to take immediately after watching the video, for instance, share with a friend, visit the website, watch more videos, visit a Buy Now page, visit a store?
  • Integration: Is the video part of a larger campaign accompanied by PR or other marketing initiatives that could help spread your message? Work with other departments!
  • Marketing: Define your demographic, influencers, social media networks and target verticals (see Viral Video Marketing below)

The responsibility falls squarely upon the online video creative agency to ask the right questions of the in-house marketing team and help to determine the goals and viral video strategies to be employed to ensure a successful campaign.

Depending on your preparedness in this phase, the costs involved could be from a couple thousand to several thousand dollars. This phase may also be included as added value to the overall viral marketing process.

Ballpark = $2,500 – $7,500


A “content as entertainment” approach is often the most effective for viral marketing and focuses on creating videos that go light on the message and heavy on the entertainment value. In this way,  even as viewers fully realize there is a brand message they don’t care because they are trading their time and attention for being entertained. Genres could include funny, unexpected, shocking, cute, guess if this is real, clever, informative or quirky but they will al have one thing in common in that they beg to be passed along.

If you work with a creative agency, fees and pricing strategies can vary and different models exist but for our purposes here let’s lay out a range of anywhere from a couple of thousand to several thousand dollars depending on the scope of the project and the agency’s fees and billing structure.

Ballpark = $2,500 – $7,500


Viral video production quality and costs are largely driven by the creative and depend on many factors including:

Pre Production

  • Casting and talent (actor) fees, trained animals
  • Location scouting and stage or location fees, where will the video be shot?


  • The number of videos; are you shooting one video or a series? Often multiple videos shot within the same shoot day and budget yet will require more time in post production
  • Live-action vs animation; using live actors vs animation or both
  • The equipment required; does the creative dictate that the project can be shot on a small consumer camera outdoors or do you need a full crew with high-end cameras and lighting?
  • Live visual effects, makeup effects
  • Wardrobe, props and sets

Post Production

  • Editing
  • Computer graphics (CGI) and visual effects
  • Music composition, recording or licensing

Some viral videos can be produced for several thousand dollars while others approach broadcast commercial production ranges of over $100,000. The best thing to do is weigh your budget against your goals and arrive at a creative solution that is both effective and within your budget.

Ballpark = $20,000 – $30,000

Viral Video Marketing & Seeding:

Viral video marketing starts with identifying your primary demographic and pinpointing the ideal viewer you are trying to reach. These are the people most likely to buy your product or service and engage your brand online and in person. Your secondary demographic should include tangential influencers, that group of viewers that are most likely to interact with and influence your primary demographic on different levels of interest.

Next, identifying relevant blogs, bloggers, websites, writers and social network influencers within certain verticals where you want your video “seeded.” By creating lists of bloggers, publication writers and key influencers across social networking sites that have contact with and influence your target. Elements of a successful viral video marketing campaign include:

  • Messaging: Digital messaging for outreach to blogs and publications
  • Social Networking: Target communities and influencers on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter
  • Sharing: an emphasis on making sharing easy and including instructions for sharing with friends
  • Outreach: to reach hundreds of top blogs and publications to encourage them to talk about and embed the video(s)
  • Going where the party is: by developing relationships (if they don’t already exist) with key influencers already engaged with your target demographic and establishing a presence in that space
  • Video Search Optimization (VSEO): including video titles, tags, descriptions and narrative back-story
  • Reporting and analysis: weekly and monthly to help determine ROI and make course corrections mid campaign

Viral video marketing and video seeding can cost anywhere from several cents per view to well over 25 cents per view. At first glance, this may seem expensive until you consider the way viral marketing works. For each properly targeted paid view, there will be additional views, online conversation, blog embeds, article mentions, social networking pass-along and valuable engagement that add to the value of that view. As the video spreads, you build buzz around the video, the product or service and your brand. By executing the appropriate viral video marketing strategy, your video will far exceed the guaranteed number of views serving to lower the total cost per view. For example, if you are shooting for 500,000 guaranteed views for .20 per view, once that video hits 1,00,000 views you have cut the cost per view to .10 per view.

Ballpark = $50,000 / 250,000 views

The objective of viral video marketing is not to pay for every single view but rather to pay enough to get your video to enough influencers and people who care that the video takes on a life of its own and the views begin to pour in organically.


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