Ad Age has taken a lead role among the major ad and marketing trades in tracking the phenomenon of viral videos.  Our readers should have noticed by now that [a]list daily has made Ad Age s weekly viral video chart posted by Abbey Klaassen a regular feature.  The chart is compiled by Visible Measures, a firm specializing in tracking internet videos.  Klaassen interviewed Visible Measures vice president Matt Cutler to uncover what the firm sees as recipes for success in getting videos to go viral.

In the video interview, Klaassen starts with the startling fact that 20 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day.  With that sheer amount content drawing viewers, it s no surprise that Cutler and his firm see viral video viewers as a mainstream rather than niche internet audience.  To uncover just how mainstream, Visible Measures conducted a study of what is arguably the most mainstream audience for advertising: the Super Bowl.  The study tracked 65 campaigns created for a single Super Bowl and tracked viewership over the course of the ensuing week.  They found that the number of viewers exposed to the campaigns, estimated at 99 million people, nearly equaled what the firm calculates as the total audience for viral videos.

With that much content and that big an audience, how do you cut through the clutter   According to Visible Measure the formula for success starts with content designed to create conversation.  Cutler sees value in any video that actually raises a question, even if that question is authenticity.  If the viewer is left wondering is what I’m seeing real or a hoax they re likely to pass it along for second opinions.  Cutler thinks this approach has worked well repeatedly, citing videos such as T-Mobile’s spontaneous crowd campaign that started with T-Mobile Dance.   (We wonder whether this is the tactic behind Microsoft’s horrid Hosting Your Party video making the rounds.)

Visible Measures pegs the benchmark for a successful viral video campaign at one million views in the first week.  They see that as an early threshold indicating whether a video will stall or take-off.  To them the ultimate goal is reaching north of 10 million views, and Cutler believes momentum in the first week is critical to attain that.  He stresses marketers need to concentrate their effort leading up to and through the first week of launch, coordinating PR, social media and whatever else is in their mix.  Beyond that they may miss generating interest among important influencers, the viewers that want to be the first to see and pass along the next hot video.  Still, he stresses that the initial burst will need a campaign to continue building and sustaining interest.

Klaassen and Cutler discuss second iterations of successful viral videos and whether they work.  With T-Mobile Dance, the arguably even more compelling follow-up T-Mobile Sing Along didn’t generate as much interest as the first.  Cutler says there is value in follow-up videos by measuring the cumulative effect.  While a second iteration may not generate the viewers and buzz of the first, it engages a new audience that goes back and watches the initial video.  He calls the effect viral activation .  It worked for both E-Trade s baby-trader ads and the Where The Hell Is Matt videos.  Successive videos released for each drove viewership for previous videos and ultimately built a mass audience for the campaigns.

You can watch Klaasssen s video interview in its entirety at Ad Age {link no longer active}.