Bold Content What Is Viral Video Marketing? How To Create A Viral Video Success (+3 Case Studies)

Viral Video Marketing

Viral Video Marketing: In simple terms, a viral video is one which achieves a massive number of views in a relatively short space of time. In the process, it is widely shared and talked about on social media, blogs, and television. For brands, the impact of having a video go viral can be hugely beneficial. After the Dollar Shave Club video went viral it produced 12,000 new orders for the start-up. And new sales aren’t the only benefit of a viral video. A viral video can massively boost positive brand perception and awareness. As a consequence, the idea of engineering a “Viral Video Hit” has become extremely popular among marketers.

How to Define a Viral Video?

What qualifies a video as going viral has changed over time. As YouTube expert Kevin Nalty points out in the past a video could be said to have gone viral if received more than one million views. But as the size of the viewing audience has expanded so too has the viral video threshold. The videos mentioned below all achieved millions of views within the first few days of their being released and have gone on to achieve tens of millions views over the longer term.

Just as important as the total number of views and the speed with which they are accumulated, is the amount of buzz the videos produce. Truly viral videos trigger huge amounts of conversation on social media, inspire parodies & spin-offs and break through to more traditional media outlets. In turn, these help to feed the popularity of the viral video.

Why Do Videos Go Viral?

If it was possible to define the exact formula for why a video goes viral then engineering a viral video would be simple. Unfortunately, no such formula exists. That said there are common traits that most videos that do go viral have. YouTube Trends Manager Kevin Allocca in his TedYouth speech “Why videos go viral” does an excellent job of summarizing three key elements of viral video marketing:


Tastemakers, also known as influencers, have large established audiences which trust their opinions. These tastemakers discover new video content and introduce them those videos to a wider audience. In his speech, Allocca gives the example of the Double Rainbow video which has been previously posted and achieved very little attention. It wasn’t until celebrity Jimmy Kimmel tweeted about the video that it went viral achieving 42 million views.


Participation refers to the two-way interaction between the video creator and the audience which is important for a video going viral. Response videos, spin-offs and parodies are something that virtually all viral videos inspire. This is something that smart brands which have enjoyed viral success have leveraged. Old Spice had a viral success with “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” with the original video achieving over 52 million views at last count. This video also led to a huge number of parodies and celebrity references. However, equally important to maintaining its viral momentum was having the Old Spice guy actor (Isaiah Mustafa) film responses to questions posed by fans on social media. In total 186 video responses to fans, questions were created in just two and half days of filming.


Alloca’s final point is that only videos which are truly unique – and unexpected – will grab the audience’s attention. Allocca uses the example of Casey Neistat humorously protesting his $50 bike fine by showing the dangers of always riding in the bicycle lane. For brands, using such a relatively simple concept can be more hit and miss. Instead, brands have found more success by creating something spectacular whether that’s Red Bull having someone skydive from the Stratosphere or filming Jan Claude Van Damme does the splits between two moving trucks. Creating such spectacles doesn’t come cheap. It is estimated that Red Bull spent $50 million on the production of the Stratos project.

In addition to the Allocca’s three elements, there are also some other key features that videos created by brands which go viral tend to share.

A Significant Marketing Budget

In addition to the costs of creating the video which can be significant (see above) there also usually needs to a significant amount of budget allocated to marketing the video for it to go viral. Paid advertising both online and off and influencer outreach help the video to reach a tipping point where enough people have seen it so that it can be spread organically.

Touching on Larger Issues

Of course, not all videos that touch on larger societal issues go viral but this is certainly an approach that has proved effective for a number of brands. Dove has done an excellent job of linking their videos to larger issues of body image and female empowerment. As noted earlier developing a conversation with the audience is a common factor in viral videos. Videos which touch on larger social issues naturally lend themselves to participating in existing conversations that are taking place on social media.

Underlying Sense of Positivity 

In order to get people to share something with their friends, family and colleagues it needs to evoke an emotion. Of the emotions that you can provoke a sense of positivity works best as it is the type of content people are most comfortable sharing on social media. This is particularly true with branded content where a negative campaign can reflect badly on the product. While the underlying issue addressed by the video can be serious, the message conveyed should be positive.

Three Case Studies Of Successful Viral Videos

Stratos Project – Red Bull

Red Bull are the masters of the content marketing. Through Red Bull Media House they produce a constant stream of first-rate video content featuring extreme sports athletes. In 2012 they achieved arguably the most ambitious viral video in history with the Stratos project. This project necessitated the execution of a NASA operation and saw Red Bull put Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner into the stratosphere (39 km above the earth surface) before releasing him to free fall to earth using a parachute. The jump took approximately took ten minutes and in the process captured the attention of the media and public across the globe. At last count, the YouTube video for the Stratos project had received almost 40 million views.

“Epic Split” Volvo Trucks

What happens when you combine an 80’s icon, two Volvo truck and a truly epic set of splits? The answer is viral video magic. The stunt featured Jan Claude “The Muscles from Brussels” Van Damme performing a split while standing on the side mirrors of two Volvo trucks. The video was designed to highlight Volvo Trucks new dynamic steering system which allows for more precise steering.

The stunt was performed in a closed off airstrip in Spain just south of Madrid. In order to capture the stunt when sunlight was just right the stunt had to be filmed in a fifteen-minute window between 8.05 to 8.20 am. This incredibly technically complex stunt paid off big time for Volvo with the video being viewed more than 82 million times.

Real Beauty – Dove

Market research showed Dove that only 4% of women believed that they are beautiful and that 54% believed that they are their own worst critic when it comes to their appearance. Using this as a basis Dove created a video sought to show a woman that they are more beautiful than they think they. The video shows that strangers view woman different to their own self-perceptions. The end result was a video that really resonated with Dove’s target audience.

The woman featured in the video were asked to visit a loft in San Francisco where they described themselves from behind a curtain to FBI forensic artist Gil Zamora. Zamora then sketched the woman based on their description. The next day the woman were described to Zamora once again by a stranger that they had just met. The final drawings by Zamora were then shown to the woman. The difference in the two pictures is startling with the woman using invariably more negative terms to describe themselves. The video ends with the phrase “You are more beautiful than you think you are”. According to AdAge, the video was viewed more than 30 million times in the first ten days after it had been released. At last count, the three-minute version of the video had been watched more than 66 million times.

Nobody has a perfect formula for producing a viral video. Afterall, who could have predicted that a video as simple has Nyan Cat (131 million views) would capture the public’s attention in the way that it did?

A big budget can certainly help to get the initial traction but without the right concept, it won’t gain the traction that is required for a video to go truly viral. But, given the outsized impact that having a video can viral can have for business it is something that marketers will continue to aspire to.