A look at Time Magazine’s Top Ten Viral Videos of 2011 quickly reveals a variety of topics covered in viral videos including: honey badger, spastic dancing, drunk cooking, seniors struggling with technology, a father-daughter duet, Michael Bolton as a pirate, a kid using The Force, a homeless man’s voice and of course, teenager Rebecca Black singing about her favorite day of the week.

What do all of these videos have in common? Beyond receiving Time Magazine’s recognition as the top viral videos of the year, all received record views on YouTube and managed to invade our computer screens, minds and hearts. And while all can agree on their popularity, the science behind what makes them successful is still a hot bed for debate and a goal for marketers to strive for. Scholars, professionals and anyone with a YouTube account all have a theory on what is required for viral success.

Social Times’ Megan O’Neill details a few key factors required to deem a video “viral” in her article “What makes a video ‘viral’? They are the following:

  • Significant Viewership
  • Substantial Buzz
  • Incites Parody (of your video)
  • Maintains Longevity

A SXSW presentation by Ogilvy’s Robert John Davis and Jeremy Sanchez detailed on MDG Advertising’s Blog offered these four steps:

  1. Prepare a plan
  2. Deliver style with substance
  3. Promote and distribute
  4. Measure success by business NOT buzz

Beyond these four key takeaways, the two also suggest targeting and researching a specific audience, establishing a call-to-action early, balancing success with your brand, keeping SEO, tagging and content in mind to ensure increased views and results.

Scientific American has detailed one educator’s theory on viral videos. According to Brent Coker, a marketing professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, four ingredients are required for a successful viral video.  They are: congruency, emotional appeal, relevancy and a combination of 16 memes he identified.

Honey badger – quirky, offbeat, combines different media, takes a swipe at something familiar in nature videos we’ve all seen, incited parodies

Spastic dancing – tugs at stereo types, has pop-culture tie in, features something comedic, incited parodies

Father-daughter-duet/webcam seniors – relatable, sweet, familiar, incited parodies

Homeless man’s voice – unique, surprising, tugs at stereotypes, incited parodies

Rebecca Black – annoying, catchy, quirky, funny, incited parodies

Looking at the group of viral videos, several themes emerge: quirkiness, all evoke an emotional response, tug at stereotypes, surprise, touch on relatable subject. All have had significant viewership, substantial buzz, incited parodies, had moderate longevity, had relevancy and emotional appeal. All touch on the key ingredients mentioned by a variety of experts. But home-grown videos aren’t the only ones that have the potential to go viral.

The Chevy Sonic commercial immediately caught my attention during the Super Bowl because of it’s catchy music and insane stunts. I remember my fiancé asking, “Why would you throw a car out of a plane?” Immediately, two others and myself responded in unison, “Why wouldn’t you?” It showed unique footage, surprising stunts, catchy music and a relatable feeling (one of youth and exuberance) targeted to their young, fun target customers. This was the inspiration for my project.

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