Oh, hi there. Have you heard the news about video? It's becoming really important for marketers to use. Imperative, even. Perhaps mandatory.
"Sure," you must be thinking. "And in other news, the sky is blue."
Okay, we get it. You know how important video is. That much is clear. In fact, 94% of marketers plan to add either YouTube or Facebook video to their content distribution efforts in the next 12 months. And that's great -- but we have a question. What makes a video viral?
According to Dictionary.com, to go viral means to become “very popular by circulating quickly from person to person, especially through the internet.” And when executed well, that virality can last for a while -- in fact, I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite ways to reminisce about my childhood is to ask my peers, “Remember that old jingle that went like … ?”
So not only have we hand-picked our favorite viral marketing videos below -- we’ve also explained what we believe makes them so effective. And given the aforementioned ability of viral videos to maintain evergreen popularity, you’ll notice that not all of them are terribly recent. So, let’s get right to it, shall we?
6 Viral Video Marketing Examples
1) Dallas Zoo & Bob Hagh: Breakdancing Gorilla
We start off with a bit of an unusual example. It all started when Dallas Zoo Primate Supervisor Ashley Orr captured this video of Zola, a footloose and fancy-free gorilla splashing around and dancing in a kiddie pool. Check it out:
But as if that wasn't already fun enough to watch, Star-Telegram Video Producer Bob Hagh noticed that the gorilla's "choreography" bore a striking resemblance to a routine from the movie Flashdance, which was performed to the song "Maniac." Seeing an opportunity for a quick laugh, Hagh dubbed the dancing gorilla video with the same track.
I added some music to this. pic.twitter.com/UwjhTKpaeu— Bob Hagh (@BobHagh) June 22, 2017
Within less than a week, the video was picked up by the likes of CNN, Maxim, and ABC, to name a few -- just have a look at the search results for "dancing gorilla maniac."
Why It Works
How many times have you watched a video and thought, "This reminds me of ... "? That's precisely what Hagh did here -- took a video that was already cute, and added something simple to make it even more shareable.
After Hagh’s “enhanced” version of the gorilla video went viral, I resolved to start observing those fleeting moments when I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be funny if … ?” And while there’s no guarantee that acting on those thoughts would have viral results -- and we wouldn’t recommend investing a ton of time in something that isn’t likely to pay off -- Hagh’s experience makes us say, “You never know.”
So start paying attention to what you normally think of as silly ideas, and if there’s a low-effort opportunity to act on them, do so -- but don’t just do it once, and pay attention each time, analyzing any metrics that you’re able to pull around performance. See who responds to each experiment and how, and it could inform your video marketing strategy.
2) Dollar Shave Club: "Our Blades Are F***ing Great"
The video below is over five years old, and yet, out of all of Dollar Shave Club’s YouTube videos -- of which there are more than 50 -- it remains the brand’s most popular, with over 24 million views.
Why It Works
There’s something to be said for putting a face to a brand -- in this case, it’s Dollar Shave Club’s founder, Michael Dubin. Employees can have up to 10X as many followers on social media as the companies they work for, and content shared by them receives as much as 8X the engagement. In other words, viewers like it when the people behind a brand advocate for it.
That’s exactly what this video does -- and following its success, Dubin hasn’t disappeared into the shadows, and to this day, continues to personally appear in the vast majority of Dollar Shave Club’s videos.
We get it. Founders and executives are busy. Where the heck are they supposed to find the time to appear in all of these marketing videos? To us, the answer is: They make the time. By publicly making that investment in their respective brands’ content, an executive sends the message that she still believes in her brand, and that she hasn’t let its success change her character. It’s a unique form of thought leadership, but if Dollar Shave Club’s growth and popularity is any indication -- it works.
3) IBM: "A Boy And His Atom: The World's Smallest Movie"
Here’s another video that you can file under: “Oldie, but goodie.” Sure, this marketing video falls within the B2B sector to advertise IBM’s data storage services -- but similar to the very B2C brand Dollar Shave Club, the example below remains its most popular video on YouTube, with over six million views.
“Even nanophysicists need to have a little fun,” the video’s description reads, explaining that, to make the video, “IBM researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope to move thousands of carbon monoxide molecules … all in pursuit of making a movie so small it can be seen only when you magnify it 100 million times.” Today, it holds the Guinness World Records™ title for the World's Smallest Stop-Motion Film.
Why It Works
Re-read the first part of the video's description. “Even nanophysicists need to have a little fun.” Replace that job title with any other, and depending on your industry, it could apply to your work, as well. All marketers deserve to have a little fun. The question is, “How?”
It presents another opportunity to start paying closer attention to those “Wouldn’t it be cool if … ?” thoughts, and thinking about how you can actually act upon them to create remarkable content. That’s especially important in B2B marketing, where creatively communicating your product or service in an engaging way is a reported challenge.
So, we’ll say it again: Write down your ideas for cool things to do, and present them at your next marketing conversation with a plan for implementing them.
P.S. Want to see how this film was made? Check out that bonus footage here.
4) TrueMoveH: "Giving"
TrueMoveH, a mobile communication provider in Thailand, triggered leaky eyeballs everywhere when it published this video in 2013. To date, it has over 20 million views and continues to be the brand’s most popular YouTube video.
We’re not crying. You’re crying.
Why It Works
Let’s think about some of the ads that have given us “all the feels,” as the kids would say, like Budweiser’s 2014 “Puppy Love” Super Bowl ad which, in January 2016, Inc. called “the All-Time Most Popular Super Bowl Ad.” They’re popular, and people continue to talk about them long after they’ve aired. That’s because they invoke empathy -- and that can highly influence buying decisions, especially when there’s a story involved.
This video tells a story. It follows the tale of a man who was unequivocally generous throughout his life and, in the end, repaid when it mattered most. The best part: Not once throughout the story is the brand mentioned. In fact, it isn’t until the end that TrueMoveH’s general business category -- communication -- arises.
Start with your industry. Then, think of a story you want to tell -- any story at all, as long as it invokes empathy. Then, figure out how that story ties back to what your brand does, and use it to create video content.
5) Tripp and Tyler & Zoom: "A Conference Call in Real Life"
Then, there’s the flip side of empathy -- the kind that takes some of life’s biggest annoyances and applies humor to them. That’s exactly what podcast hosts Tripp and Tyler did in the video below, to illustrate what a conference call would look like if it played out in real life.
Why It Works
This example is an interesting case of co-marketing. Tripp and Tyler made the video in partnership with Zoom, a video conferencing provider -- but Zoom isn’t mentioned until the end, when the story being told in the video is largely over. It’s as if the video says, “Ha ha, don’t you hate it when that happens? Here’s a company that can provide a solution,” and then quietly exits.
What are some of the biggest annoyances your customers or personas have to deal with? Do they align with the problems that your product or service is designed to solve? If the answer is “no,” then, well … you have some work to do.
But if the answer is “yes,” find the humor in those problems. They say that “art imitates life,” so don’t be afraid to act it out, and use these common frustrations to create engaging content.
6) Poo~Pourri: "Imagine Where You Can GO"
Poo~Pourri, the maker of a unique bathroom spray, is known for its vast array of viral videos. And while we’re a bit too bashful to share its most popular one on here, here’s another one -- which has earned over 13 million views -- that’ll give you a general idea of what the brand is all about.
Why It Works
Let’s face it: Generally, what goes on in the bathroom stays in the bathroom. It’s a taboo topic -- but it’s one that everyone experiences, and one that Poo~Pourri approaches and communicates with bravado.
This brand’s products were created to solve a problem that people typically don’t like to discuss publicly, but still needs to be resolved. So Poo~Pourri created video content that says, “Hey, we’ll address and talk about it, so you don’t have to.”
What are some of the discomforts/uncomfortable topics around the problem that your product seeks to resolve? Start a conversation about them -- the one that your customer wants to have, but is too embarrassed to do so.
And guess what? It doesn’t have to pertain to bodily functions. It can also be about bigger grievances, like wanting to quit your job. That’s the approach that HubSpot has taken with its Summer Startup Competition, for which we created the video below. The opening line? An unabashed declaration of, “Quit your job.”
So, there you have it. From tear-jerking to hilarious, these viral videos illustrate the endless possibilities of how your brand can create similar content -- the kind that could keep people talking about it far down the road.
What are your favorite viral video marketing examples? Let us know in the comments.
Want more tips for creating video content? Check out this data on the state of video marketing.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2010 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jul 7, 2017 6:00:00 AM, updated March 25 2019