Lessons from 9 Viral Videos and 3 Second Acts

Lessons from 9 Viral Videos and 3 Second Acts

By Rajesh Setty on Tue 18 Aug 2009, 5:00 AM – 17 Comments

You would have seen one or more of these viral videos – some of these took off like wildfire on YouTube.

There is no ONE reason why videos become viral but there are a few observations we can make about the characteristics of these videos.  A typical viral video will have some combination of these 7 characteristics:

1. Content:

The content VERY uncommon. It is hard (and takes a LOT of discipline) to re-create such content. Plus, even if you were able to re-create it, the duplicate may not fly the way the original took off. “Video #6 Noah takes a photo of himself everyday for 6 years” is one such example.

2. Chance:

This can happen to the surprise of the video creators. Gary Broslma (#4 Numa Numa video) and Matt Harding (#3 Where the hell was Matt) are examples. Both Gary and Matt have publicly admitted that even in their dreams they didn’t expect their videos to gain the popularity they gained.

3. Characters:

The characters behave in a way that is totally shocking or surprising for the occasion. “Video #8 JK’s Wedding Entrance” is one such example. Nobody expected that the bride, bridegroom and their friends would enter the way they entered (dancing) for the wedding event.

4. Comical:

The video captures a totally (unbelievably) comical moment that people are dumbfounded. They wonder “How could this really happen?” and share it with others. “Video #2 – Miss Teen USA South Carolina answering a question”  is a good example here.

5. Community:

The community (local or global) participates and becomes part of the video. Naturally, they help spread the video and because of the massive collective action, the video goes viral. An example of that is “Where the hell is Matt (2008)” version in the “Second Acts” section.

6. Compelling

The message is compelling and touches our hearts and souls. “Video #6 Dove Evolution” is an example of a compelling message. The video shows how we have a misconception of “beauty” in this world.

7. Creativity

Extreme creativity. “Video #9 Krishna Act” is gives an example of such extreme creativity. When you watch the video, you can’t do anything but to appreciate the sheer creative talent displayed by the team.

Now please enjoy these viral videos.

9 Viral Videos

These videos are in no particular order. They are there for you to enjoy but also for you to stop and think about the reasons that made them go viral. Enjoy the videos but also look for some lessons from them collectively.

#1. Free Hugs Video (with music by SickPuppies)

#2. Miss Teen USA 2007 – South Carolina answers a question

#3. Where the hell was Matt? (The original version)

#4. Numa Numa Video


#5. Noah takes a photo of himself everyday for 6 years

#6. Dove Evolution

#7. Will it Blend? – iPhone

#8. JK’s Wedding Entrance

Today show re-created the show once again bringing a ton of additional visibility

#9. India’s Got Talent – Krishna Act

Second Acts

Second Acts are not easy. The expectations are high and unless your second act is 10X better than the original, it won’t fly.

I have chosen three second acts just to showcase this.

Video #1 Where the Hell is Matt (2008) was sponsored by Stride Gum. This is one of the videos where the second act was more popular than the first one. The reason I can think of is the community participation. Matt repeated his world tour second time (with professional crew) but involved local communities to come and dance with him. The collective power of the global communities skyrocketed the second act.

Video #2 – The New Numa Numa Video was reasonably popular but not as popular as the first one.The reason I think is that the “surprise” factor was lacking. The second video was REALLY good but people expected that to be REALLY good. In fact, they wanted it to be more than that.

Video #3 – JK’s Divorce Entrance was a commercial venture that did not come close to JK’s Wedding Entrance. The new tried to repeat what JK’s Wedding Entrance (used some “knowledge arbitrage” there) but it was hard to convince someone that characters would be so happy to come dancing for a divorce.

1. Where the Hell is Matt (2008)

2. New Numa Numa Video

3. JK Divorce Entrance


I simply didn’t include a few more videos (eg: 1. Britain’s Got Talent – Susan Boyle 2. Flawless Dance Act) because embedding was disabled by request.


Related Articles:

Posted in the Cool Movies category.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend   

17 Comments so far, Add Yours

Ramesh Natarajan  on August 18th, 2009


I’ve seen few of the videos before. What you’ve done here is excellent by putting this in context and trying to analyze why it succeeded in 1st place.

I totally agree with you about the 2nd act, which is like movie sequel. Most of the time it will be a flop — unless you do something dramatic.

For example:

Matrix – 1st movie was awesome. Others were very average.

Lord of the Rings – All parts are awesome.

Rajesh Setty  on August 18th, 2009

Ramesh, thanks for the comments.

Yes, making something great is hard work. Following it up with another great work is MORE hard work :)



alexanderrea  on August 21st, 2009

Excellent article. Picked it up off of today’s SmartBrief on Social Media. I would like to quote with full credit on my blog along with use in a lecture I am giving to advertising students next week.



socialmediawave  on August 21st, 2009

Rajesh-great post – good use of examples and embedded viral elements!



coolhunting » Blog Archive » Erfolgreiche Viral Videos  on August 21st, 2009

[…] Zur Video-Analyse – Prädikat “sehenswert” Bookmark It Hide Sites $$('div.d153').each( function(e) { e.visualEffect('slide_up',{duration:0.5}) }); […]

Jim Jackson  on August 21st, 2009

Fun stuff! What I like is the original ones not the second attempts. True in life the original is always better.

Karthick  on August 21st, 2009

Fantastic stuff and great post Rajesh. This has truly be an inspiration, thanks to you I spent 1 hour watching all videos (some thrice haha) and loved them for all the reasons you mentioned.

Lessons from 9 Viral Videos and 3 Second Acts | Life Beyond Code « Netcrema – creme de la social news via digg + delicious + stumpleupon + reddit  on August 21st, 2009

[…] Lessons from 9 Viral Videos and 3 Second Acts | Life Beyond Codelifebeyondcode.com […]

debra joy  on August 21st, 2009

I really like how you summarized the reasons these videos worked. And of course I had viewed all of them before seeing this blog, and I don’t get a lot of videos sent my way.

Terrintokyo  on August 21st, 2009

very clear and timely analysis: thank you!

Gail Barsky, Esquire  on August 22nd, 2009


Great perspective on viral marketing; I appreciate you sharing some videos I was not familiar with.

Thanks for the content.

Gail Barsky, Esquire

Slumpnavigerat 24 aug 2009 | Slumpnavigator  on August 23rd, 2009

[…] Lessons from 9 Viral Videos and 3 Second Acts […]

Brett Serjeantson  on August 24th, 2009

How about newsworthy?

The biggest influencer is still the mainstream media.

Rajesh Setty  on August 25th, 2009

Thanks to all of you for the supporting comments.

@Brett, yes the media plays a big role but my guess is that they pick up only after a video has shown signs of viralness IMHO.



Shan  on August 26th, 2009

Great job, Rajesh. Really enjoyed the analysis.

SmartBlog On Social Media » This week’s most clicked  on August 28th, 2009

[…] 7 traits of highly successful viral videos […]

What makes Web Video Go Viral? « uThrive Social Media Marketing  on September 1st, 2009

[…] Lessons from 9 Viral Videos and 3 Second Acts […]

Leave a Comment