7 Traits of Highly Effective Viral Videos

In the past few years, video has come a long way. As someone who once didn’t like online video, it’s now part of my daily life. In the past few years, videos have gotten much better and widespread that I’d find it hard to be stubborn in my old ways by ignoring all incoming multimedia streams. Today, video’s potential is obvious: it can be a marketer’s dream and yield tremendous successes. Indeed, I’ve discovered some incredible video that I can watch again and again. Here are seven video examples that have become viral phenomenons in their own right. Let’s take a look at what set these guys apart from their contenders.


Do something that other people can relate to. When Weezer came out with Pork and Beans in 2008, the band’s music video introduced a completely different concept with characters that were incredibly familiar. The Pork and Beans video enlisted in familiar faces across the YouTube culture. Because the video celebrities themselves were familiar to millions of spectators, the music video caught on virally. The original video, which is now private, had seen over 4 million views in its first four days, and was at over 20 million views until it was made private.

Highlight something that people are accustomed to. That’s why so many spoofs of David after Dentist actually saw hundreds of thousands of video views, and it’s also why Kanye West’s Taylor Swift Outburst brought Obama to shame (and people still watched it!).


Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz were just your average couple until they turned their wedding into something far more memorable. By engaging the wedding party and having them dance down the aisle spontaneously, people watching the resultant video really felt the momentum. They got excited. They laughed. Some even cried. It was a beautiful moment for Jill and Kevin, but it was also a beautiful moment for those of us watching the video from our home computers thousands of miles away.

The power of the unexpected can move your video to great heights. It’s why Susan Boyle’s “Britain’s Got Talent” audition video is now hovering at 86 million views. It’s why she is now famous. It’s why T-Mobile succeeded with a flash mob. And it’s why Jill and Kevin will definitely forever be remembered in our hearts.

Let’s take it a step further, though, with a “shocking” element. Videos that have a completely unplanned “wow” element to them definitely travel far in social circles. It’s more than just the JK Wedding Dance video, which was a heartwarming feel-good video with preparation. Taking the idea beyond the unexpected, these videos evoke some emotion because of sheer luck — or just the opposite.

Shocking videos are why it’s been 3 months, but I’m still in awe after watching this video. It’s why many people gasped when they saw this wedding get ruined. It’s also why this movie stunt was almost believable.


You don’t always have to engage in expensive video production to promote your wares, nor as the marketer do you have to create the video yourself. With over 1 billion video views on YouTube per day, if you have a great video that shows your passion for the product and the right audience comes along, you can find your video in the spotlight.

The video above is one of the first iPod touch commercials. Would you have known that it was created by an 18-year-old student in his spare time? Nick Haley created the video at home for fun and uploaded it to YouTube. Once online, it caught the attention of executives at Apple who flew him into California to make it a commercial reality.

Showing your passion can translate to opportunities down the road too. Fede Alvarez published a small film to YouTube a few weeks ago, and it landed him a $30 million movie deal. And this Trader Joe’s commercial is pretty awesome and got some good visibility.

Think you don’t have what it takes to be creative in-house? Why not ask your customers to try their hand at video production for you?


Don’t you like making people smile? Most people do. It goes without saying that funny videos are highly shareable and can yield that desired result. It’s why Yatta has been passed on in various iterations for years.

Humans can relate to emotional content, and laughable content is always golden. It’s why Pearl and Will Ferrell’s landlord fight has been watched nearly 70 million times. It’s why this baby video of girls being natural talkers always makes me giggle. It’s why songs like this translate to tweets, remixes, and playoff game invitations. It’s why I laugh every time at this BBC Guy Kewney Goma mix-up (and even posted about it once before).


Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

If you’re in need of viral content, you don’t have to look much farther than videos that teach users how to do something. These videos can be very basic, from how to tie a tie, to more complex videos with multiple steps, such as skipping out on room service to make a gourmet dinner in a hotel room. Anne-Marie Faiola of Brambleberry, also known as Soap Queen TV, does this very well. Candy Soap, anyone?

On a similar note, you can also show someone how something is done. One of my favorite viral videos of all time was one I first watched when I was in preschool but it stayed with me for a good twenty-some-odd years. Don’t you want to know how crayons are made? Taking someone into the office of your busy-at-work programmers or directly into your manufacturing plant to see the process of creation can be really fascinating from an outsider’s perspective.


Creative videos can become worldwide phenomenons, just like the Hibi no Neiro music video which scored it a YouTube award in Japan.

Adding the right spice of creativity and doing something that is unique and never tried before can bring that video views and awareness. It’s why these European students made a video that hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed, and why this Tetris video was so fun to watch. It’s why I jump up with glee when I watch these kitties and their owner play together. It’s why our eyes opened up when we watched how exactly why our definition of beauty is distorted. It’s why time lapses are so much fun to watch.


Want to watch a video that’s nothing like the above but motivates you to do your best? Inspiring videos, too, can be viral. Randy Pausch, a former lecturer at Carnegie Mellon, inspired not only students in his class but the world in his last ever speech before he passed away from pancreatic cancer.

It’s why Paul Potts also rose to the top; it inspired every one of us to chase after our dreams. It’s why anything is possible after watching Nick Vujicic do it. It’s why the future looks exciting thanks to movies, and why we all feel great when discovering that through the story of man and animal, love is never truly forgotten.

There you have it: seven viral video characteristics that start the conversations and get the wheels turning. If you’re looking to craft a viral video, consider meeting at least one of these characteristics: identifiability, spontaneity, genuineness, humor, information, creativity, and inspiration. Ideally, if you cover ground on at least two of these traits, your video might have a good chance of success. To be sure, though, solicit feedback from a group of trusted peers not directly involved in your company or marketing objectives before going ahead with publishing the video, since you need an unbiased opinion. Do this before you upload it to YouTube; for a video to achieve viral status on YouTube, it needs to pick up steam as soon as it’s uploaded.

Am I missing any? What are your favorite videos, and why?


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