Make it Contagious: The Art of the Viral Video

April 28, 2016

What do a great-smelling man on a horse, a talking camel excited about Wednesday and the Manning brothers rapping about football have in common? They’re all commercials that have reached cult status on the Internet and won the lottery of successful viral video marketing. Although it’s hard to predict what will go viral or what will flop, the future of online marketing depends on experts keeping a keen eye on the digital zeitgeist … and knowing how to use it.


When YouTube opened its doors to allow advertising on its videos in 2009, marketers were given a shot at reaching an enormous online audience of 1 billion unique visitors per month. Advertisements started as a text overlay at the bottom of the screen, but soon evolved into pre-roll 15-30 second video ads featured before the content starts. Other platforms like Blip have also adopted the format and even upped the ante by adding the option for creators to include multiple mid-roll ads throughout their videos … a huge win for advertisers. But with the growing popularity of ad blockers and skippable ads, marketers have to come up with new ways to keep engagement high from an audience looking for entertainment with their cursors poised over the “skip” button.

The solution isn’t to keep pushing the same old format, but to work in harmony with the culture of the Internet. Enter the viral video, in which the line between advertising and entertainment is deliberately and delightfully blurred. An early example of this comes from the 2010 Old Spice campaign “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” Originally a televised commercial, its rapid-fire dialogue, “WTF?” ending and absurd scenario didn't become a phenomenon until it went viral on YouTube. Currently, the original video has 46,187,624 views, and has spawned countless parodies and even its own web series with the leading man answering viewer questions, spewing catch-phrases, etc. … all based on a commercial people actively seek to watch, not skip. How brilliant is that?

Viral video marketing is all about finding a meeting ground of mutual consent. Consumers are savvy enough to know when they’re being marketed to, but will go along for the ride as long as the content is desirable, and they feel they are in control. This is especially important to keep in mind for your brand’s content strategy as online media platforms, tech and culture evolve. At least one thing won’t change … everyone loves a good laugh.

See Oxford’s viral video series for Smart Electric’s Smart Bulbs here.