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Top 10 Viral Ads of All Time

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What makes an ad go viral? Thales Teixeira, a professor at the Harvard Business School, thinks the answer is simple, it must "induce joy." Preferably in the first five seconds of the ad. "Content not only fosters sharing," Teixeria says, "but also motivation," - out of either altruism or through selfish reasons, such as the desire to gain social capital.

"It’s all about them," Professor Teixeria says of viral video senders, "not about the receiver."

Despite the unpredictable variety of ads that go viral, there are usually three elements they all share, according to Engage, they surprise us; they captivate us with storytelling; and they don’t use the hard sell.

So what are the Top 10 Viral Ads of all time? Here’s a quick run-down:

10. VW Piano Stairs

No one knows how this staircase that has been turned into a giant piano relates to Volkswagen, but no one really cares. It was your favorite scene from Big, and it was the favorite thing these people saw when they used this particular train station in Stockholm. It’s not exactly sure how this brilliant public art project sells more Jettas, but 17.8 million views later, it comes it at Number 10.

9. Google Earth 4.2 demo video from 2007

Remember 2007? YouTube was two years old then, and Google Earth was still a big enough deal for people to view the demo of its version 4.2 - the first time Google allowed you to view the sky - 21.3 million times.

8. Zazoo Condoms Ad

Everyone has seen this ad of a bratty kid throwing a tantrum in a grocery store, only to find out its a condom ad at the end. It’s not subtle, but it provides that combination of surprise and storytelling while avoiding the hard sell that has made it viewed 28.2 million times.

7. Inspired Bicycles

This is a classic one-hit viral wonder: a magic montage of a professional BMX’er taking an Inspired Bicycle out on the town in Edinburgh. This video is three years old, and the Inspired Bicycle YouTube channel only has 13 videos total, viewed collectively 32.5 million times, 30.7 million of which are for this one video.

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6. T-Mobile Flash Mob Dance

That sense of wonder and surprise that a viral video can conjure in an audience can be difficult to capture, but this video from 2009 shows what keeps an audience interested until the end with enough motivation to share it 34.9 million times with their social network - guts, planning and execution. T-Mobile’s YouTube channel has 779 videos that have been seen collectively 98.1 million times.

5. Pepsi Kung Fu Monk Kid ad

It remains difficult to determine how or why a video will be enjoyed enough to share. This Pepsi ad shows a young Buddhist monk growing up in the monastery and his last right of passage is crushing a Pepsi can with his forehead - a narrative so surprising and cute that people felt it was worth viewing 36.7 million times. Just goes to show one can never predict what might go viral.

4. Old Spice Dude

By now, this ad campaign has come to define the very definition of a viral ad, one that starts on television and then takes on a new life online. This is the video that started it all, and at 41.9 million views, it remains the top video on the Old Spice YouTube channel, which has 258 videos that have been viewed 292.2 million times.

3. Little Darth Vader VW

He is so cute! Clearly one of the intangibles in getting an ad to go viral is have a story or a character that is just too cute to believe, like this kid who keeps going around his house in his over-sized Darth Vader mask trying to use the force, and then encounters his Dad’s VW and then surprises himself. It’s been viewed 53.7 million times, enough to make it the number-one live-action ad of all time, and number 3 overall.

2. Evian Roller Blade Babies

You’ve often asked yourself: What would the E-Trade baby be like if he had friends and got outside from time to time? Well, Evain has answers. And 57.6 million views later, the Evian roller-skating babies ad is officially the second-most viral advertisement of the social media era.

1.Angry Birds Trailer

There was a period during which video ads were going viral, when the entire business model for Angry Birds - paid smartphone apps - didn’t even exist. Now, Angry Bird’s maker, Rovio Entertainment, has nearly 700 videos on its YouTube channel, with an accumulated 591.6 million views. The most popular video there, the Angry Birds movie trailer from 2010 has 72.8 million views, making it alone the most viewed viral ad of all time.

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