The anatomy of viral


From “David After Dentist” to “Double Rainbow,” viral YouTube videos are the way we share jokes, learn of new trends and share culture. More than 32 million people watched Volkswagen’s Darth Vader Superbowl ad — not on television, but on their browsers. According to a UtiliPoint International study, over four billion daily views are generated on YouTube, which is the world’s second largest search engine.

However, most viral videos start out unintentionally, created as a way to share something funny among friends and family. Shelly Schwoebel, a German studies master’s student from Indianapolis, said it’s nearly impossible to predict what will go viral.

“You don’t know what will stick because people are so bombarded with media messages,” she said.

Schwoebel said she is on YouTube almost constantly and said there is a common theme for viral videos, no matter what crowd they attract.

“Novelty is the biggest factor,” Schwoebel said. “Just because something is cute or funny doesn’t mean it will be popular.”

Olivia Gallegos, a classics major from Hillsboro, Ore., said timeliness is another important aspect of a viral video. As part of the group that created the “New Spice: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar” YouTube video, Gallegos said most people looked at the video during the popularity of the Old Spice campaign.

“Within an hour we were receiving calls from Canada and emails from Egypt and Australia,” she said. “It was just shocking how many loved it and were willing to share it with others. We had no idea it would be that successful.”

Gallegos also said the aim of the group wasn’t to create a viral video, but to make something quality that people would honestly enjoy.

“What viral means to me is that it’s not just good to watch once, but people want to watch it several times and share it,” Gallegos said. “In order to be on top, you have to be new, fresh and innovative.”

Bryce Randle, editor for Yo Gabba Gabba! in Anaheim, Calif., said successful YouTube videos are either purely funny or have compelling stories, such as the video of his niece entitled “Baby Genius.”

“They’re all very clever, high concept videos that are very short and to the point,” Randle said.

Brett Roberts, one of the creators of “Kid History,” said their videos would receive more views if they weren’t so long. Each video runs for six to eight minutes, which is hard to share. However, the group has gained popularity in several communities because of the clean humor portrayed in the videos.

“There’s so little clean comedy out there, something kids and adults can enjoy and not be afraid of sharing,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he received many fan comments that have really touched him, including a person in the hospital writing that “Kid History” was the only thing to make him smile. Roberts said it makes him feel like the group is making a difference in peoples’ lives. However, like many viral video stars, he makes the videos to have fun.

“One of the best things that has come from this is that my kids think I’m cool,” Roberts said.

This is the third article in a viral series. To see the second article, click here.

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