7Going Viral: The Web Helps Audiences Catch the Fever

As I write this, the number of YouTube views of Korean pop star Psy's video “Gangnam Style” is nearly 3 billion.1 That makes it the most watched video of all time. The catchy song, wacky horse dance, and interesting scene locations combined to make it a hit all over the world. When I ask in my talks if participants have seen the video, more than half always have, and it doesn't matter what country I'm in. I've asked people in Belize, Egypt, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, and India about “Gangnam Style.” As soon as I do, smiles emerge.

Even parodies of Psy's video have achieved huge view counts. There are hundreds of them: character-based parodies by Sponge Bob (2.2 million views) and the Oregon Duck (6.6 million); location-based parodies like “London Style” (5 million views) and “Minnesota Style” (1 million); and organization-based parodies like “Bay Area Wedding Music” (2 million), “MIT Gangnam Style” (5 million), and “Inbound Style”2 from the folks at HubSpot (nearly a quarter million views—and if you add yourself to the total you'll catch a cameo from yours truly).

For marketers, one of the coolest things about the web is that when an idea takes off, it can propel a brand or company to fame and fortune for free. Whatever you call it—viral, buzz, or word-of-mouse marketing—having other people tell your story drives action. Many viral phenomena start innocently: Somebody creates a funny video clip, a cartoon, or a story to ...

Get The New Rules of Marketing and PR, 6th Edition now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.