Ah, the viral video – the holy grail of video and social marketing. In the last five years, we’ve seen an explosion in virality – gone are the days when Charlie Bit My Finger was the only viral of note and, thanks to recent crazes like Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake, the most popular video on YouTube has been viewed over 1.5 billion times.

Of course, marketers have always been keen to jump in on the action, and agencies are spending more and more time and resources to create the ‘next big thing’. While there’s no sure-fire way to create a viral video, brands do have budget and the ability to support a video with paid advertisements, meaning that if the content is exceptional, there’s no barrier to stop branded videos from becoming successful.

Here are five examples of brands that got it right, along with the lessons that smart marketers can learn from them.

1 – Ojai Valley Taxidermy

When YouTubers Rhett and Link created a TV commercial for Ojai Valley Taxidermy, they had no idea how quickly the ad would take off. Featuring the company’s proprietor Chuck Testa, the wacky commercial captured the public’s sense of humour and turned Chuck into an internet star overnight. The video has since been viewed 14 million times.

The Lesson: It’s almost impossible to tell what people will find entertaining, but working with successful YouTubers can help you to reach a new audience and can kick-start the success of your video.

2 – VeriSign

B2B company VeriSign, which provides SSL Certificates for e-commerce websites, knew it had to do something different to capture potential customers’ attention. Cue their ‘cart whisperer’ series of videos, which aims to highlight the issue of online shopping cart abandonment. Their campaign, which featured the eccentric (and fictional) character of Liberty Fillmore, was accompanied by a microsite, and several of the videos have been viewed over a million times.

The Lesson: Don’t think that B2B virality is impossible – just think outside the box and try to re-imagine either your offering or the problems that it aims to solve. 

3 – Dove

This recent offering by Dove has gone on to be one of the most successful branded viral videos in history, and it’s a rare example of a video that doesn’t rely on humor to get its message across. Dove gathered a collection of women in a room and asked them to talk about their features – without actually seeing them, a forensic artist created a composite sketch based upon their descriptions. They then asked the women to describe each other, and a second composite sketch was created. In Dove’s emotive video, they show the difference between self-image and the perceptions of others, and it’s powerful enough to reduce many of the participants to tears.

The Lesson: Sometimes, carrying out a thoughtful experiment can be more impactful than any number of publicity stunts.

4 – Fiat

Fiat’s ‘The Motherhood’ video features a rapping mum who’s stressed out from the pressures of being a mother. Bringing together comedy and music, two of YouTube’s most popular categories, the video has been viewed over four million times. Like most other branded virals, the video is notable for not overtly featuring the brand or its products until right at the very end. It also has the advantage of containing content that’s targeted at new mums, one of the primary audiences of the product that they were promoting.

The Lesson: Music and comedy work well together, and don’t be afraid to be occasionally off-brand if it’s going to generate results.

5 – Evian

Evian’s Roller Babies video was certified as the most viral advert of all-time, and it’s easy to see the appeal – who doesn’t love babies on roller skates? Since its release, the video has been viewed over 65 million times, and their ‘Baby and Me’ follow-up received a further 30 million views in just five days.

The Lesson: Babies are cute, but babies acting like grown-ups are cuter. A well-executed follow-up video can prolong your campaign, but make it different enough for it to add something new to the conversation.

As these five companies have shown, it’s by no means impossible for a brand to reach a huge new audience and to generate a large amount of exposure through a well-placed viral video. While overly branded videos can be a huge turn-off, a minimal amount of branding can be overlooked if the content is interesting and shareable enough.

In addition, by working with well-respected YouTubers to create sponsored videos, as Ojai Valley Taxidermy did with Rhett and Link, it’s possible to tap in to a huge, pre-existing audience. Take, for example, the work that Mentos did with Nalts – by giving him the freedom to create his usual genre of content, they reaped the rewards of over three million views. Not bad, for a low-budget, brand-sponsored video.

What branded viral videos have you enjoyed? Let me know with a comment.