Explainer: Ad Age's 10 best viral ads

  • Image: Old Spice Guy
    Old Spice
    He may have been the champion of your hearts, ladies. But he wasn't the No. 1 on Advertising Age's rankings.

    A little over five years ago, YouTube ushered in a new genre of video advertising, one that succeeded on its ability to rise above a world of pet tricks and backyard stunts, to entertain and to be passed around. Call them "viral" videos, super-sized TV ads, branded videos or just plain commercials, a few of them have crossed a significant psychic milestone: 100 million views and counting.

    Last week, the roller-skating babies of Evian's "Live Young" campaign reached the mark after a little more than a year on the web. This, without any significant TV exposure in the U.S. and very little overseas. It's advertising that entertains. And it got us thinking: What are the most-watched viral ads of all time?

    We put the question to our friends at Visible Measures, and the answer surprised us. It turned out the No. 1 viral campaign of all time is a consistent sleeper hit, not often among the weekly top 10 on Ad Age's Viral Chart, and not connected to a big, well-heeled brand or fancy creative agency. Rather, it's a cool gimmick that consistently delivers laughs along with cringe-inducing voyeuristic destruction.

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    The No. 1 video advertiser of all time is Blendtec, whose "Will It Blend" series has been around in the same form for four years, accumulating 134.2 million views. The key? The brand found what works and stuck with it. Each of the more than 120 original clips has the same kitschy music, the same tagline, variations on the same stunt and the same host, Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson.

    While brilliant, Mr. Dickson has to thank Steve Jobs for Blendtec's biggest hits, including laying waste to an iPhone in 2007 and an iPad in April.

    What's remarkable about the top 10 is that viewers would voluntarily watch an ad 100 million times, let alone 23 million times. Not surprisingly, given the recent growth of web video, most of the entrants are recent campaigns, launched within the last year or two. All but one, Pepsi's "Gladiator," came after the launch of YouTube in 2005. (The ad, starring Britney, Beyonce and Pink, appeared on TV in 2004.)

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    In addition to Blendtec, Evian and Pepsi, the list includes two Old Spice campaigns (including the newly famous "Your Man" Isaiah Mustafa), Microsoft's Xbox Project Natal, Dove's "Evolution," DC Shoes' "Gymhana Two," and "T-Mobile Dance." While the chart stops at No. 10, special honorable mention goes to Nike, which holds the No. 11 spot for its "Write the Future" campaign, as well as the Nos. 12 and 13 spots for early viral efforts starring Kobe Bryant and Ronaldinho.

    While great creative is the key to keeping interest and generating pass-along, time also helps. It took Evian and Blendtec more than a year to get to 100 million views. The next campaign to do it will probably feature Old Spice's Isaiah Mustafa, not for the original "Man Your Man Could Smell Like" TV ad, but the "Responses" campaign, where Mustafa recorded customized replies to folks like Kevin Rose, George Stephanopolous, Gizmodo and Biz Stone.

  • No. 1: Blendtec, ''Will It Blend?''

    Agency: In-house
    All-time views: 134,256,499
    Launch date: Oct. 30, 2006

    <br/><a href="" target="_new"title="Will it blend: iPad">Video: Will it blend: iPad</a>
  • No 2.: Evian, ''Live Young''

    Agency: BETC Euro RSCG
    All-time views: 103,867,704
    Launch date: June 4, 2009

  • No. 3: Old Spice, ''Responses''

    Agency: Wieden & Kennedy
    All-time views: 57,132,669
    Launch date: July 12, 2010

    <br/><a href="" target="_new"title="Hilarious Old Spice Commercial">Video: Hilarious Old Spice Commercial</a>
  • No. 4: Pepsi, ''Gladiator''

    Agency: AMV BBDO
    All-time views: 46,742,892
    Launch date: Jan. 1, 2004

  • No. 5: Microsoft, ''Xbox Project Natal''

    Agency: World Famous
    All-time views: 42,698,599
    Launch date: June 1, 2009

    <br/><a href="" target="_new"title="Overview of Project Natal">Video: Overview of Project Natal</a>
  • No. 6: Dove, ''Evolution''

    Agency: Ogilvy & Mather
    All-time views: 41,100,418
    Launch date: Oct. 10, 2006

  • No. 7: T-Mobile, ''T-Mobile Dance''

    Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
    All-time views: 35,487,575
    Launch date: Jan. 15, 2009

    <br/><a href="" target="_new"title="The T-Mobile Dance">Video: The T-Mobile Dance</a>
  • No. 8: Doritos, ''Crash The Super Bowl 2010''

    Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
    All-time views: 34,168,845
    Launch date: Jan. 5, 2010

  • No. 9: Old Spice, ''Odor Blocker''

    Agency: Wieden & Kennedy
    All-time views: 33,986,750
    Launch date: March 31, 2010

    <br/><a href="" target="_new"title="Old Spice Guy Stops Taking Online Questions">Video: Old Spice Guy Stops Taking Online Questions</a>
  • No. 10: DC Shoes, ''Gymkhana Two''

    Agency: In-house
    All-time views: 32,872,531
    Launch date: Sept. 3, 2009

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