Top 10 Viral Videos of All Time
Unless you’ve buried yourself under a rock for the past few years, you’ll be aware that viral video has become one of the world’s favourite ways of communicating and sharing content.
The stats are impressive – 5 billion videos are watched every day on YouTube and 300 hours of video are uploaded to the platform every minute.
Further, video is transforming the ways we communicate on established platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, while new forums like TikTok are inspiring a new generation of creators.
The magic formula that makes a video go viral is hard to define, although it’s been the subject of studies by serious academics like Professor Richard Clay.
All said, we thought it would be fun to collate our own top 10 viral videos of all time – based not only on views, but also on lasting influence and cross-cultural appeal.
So if you’re thinking of incorporating video in your marketing mix, sit back, relax and prepare to be bewitched, bamboozled and bewildered by our picks!
1. ALS Ice bucket Challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge dominated the summer of 2014 so thoroughly that it’s hard to remember if anything else actually happened that year – everyone from Bill Gates to your neighbour Julie was getting involved and braving the cold. Celeb endorsements and popular support supercharged virality while raising an estimated $110 million dollars for the ALS (Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis) Association and other third sector organisations. It was all good fun for a great cause.
2. Justin Bieber – various
People may have forgotten that Justin Bieber was a YouTube star long before he was the international sensation he is today. Bieber found his way to stardom after several of his videos went viral and caught the attention of his current manager Scooter Braun. He’s in our top 10 due to the seminal influence his approach had on the music industry – subsequently, stars like Shawn Mendes, Charlie Puth, Alessia Cara, 5 Seconds of Summer and Carley Rae Jepson were all signed by big labels who discovered them on YouTube.
3. Charlie bit my finger
When most people think about viral videos, Charlie bit my finger is typically one of the first to come to mind – if you only know one of the videos on our list, we would bet that it’s this one. It was the most viewed video on YouTube between October 2009 and 2011 and currently has 850 million views. Despite being over 10 years old, this record breaking video continues to be relevant – the original has successfully secured its place in the cultural zeitgeist and spawned several parodies.
4. Kony 2012
Kony 2012 is by far the longest video on our list – at 30 minutes, it’s definitely an anomaly in the viral video world. The documentary brought the eponymous ultra-violent Ugandan warlord to the attention of millions for the first time, prompted America to send troops to help with his manhunt and made the name Joseph Kony infamous.
5. Psy – Gangnam Style
Any video that breaks YouTube’s view counter immediately deserves a spot on our list! Currently sitting on 3.3 billion views, we’re convinced that you’ve heard of Gangnam Style. Psy’s catchy hit marked a huge turning point for viral videos, the music industry and YouTube – this was the dawn of the YouTube superstar on a level the world had never seen before and even forced Billboard to change their ranking system. But another important part is its legacy in blazing a trail in new markets for genres like K-pop and J-pop – it has genuine cross-cultural value.
6. Flashmob Antwerp
Try to watch a flashmob without smiling – it’s practically impossible! The creation of the flashmob was one of the greatest marketing strategies of all time. There are so many to choose from, but we had to pay homage to this fantastic early flashmob example which reprised a classic Sound of Music track in Antwerp, Belgium. This was the catalyst for a trend which would later feature in movies and TV shows and even be used to prank Oprah. Our personal favourite viral flash mobs from those that followed would have to be Liverpool Street London, The Philippines Prison, Grand Central Station and the Black Eyed Peas Concert.
7. Space oddity
Thanks to his popular Tweets, Commander Chris Hadfield was no stranger to mass audiences prior to going viral with this rendition of Bowie’s Space oddity. But belting out this classic rocketed his internet stardom into the stratosphere and, given the unique location and performance, it’s no surprise it went viral.
Often dubbed the first viral star of YouTube, LonelyGirl15 was the mystery girl of the early YouTube years. She quickly gained a global following and millions of views by vlogging from her bedroom. Conspiracies only fuelled her success and the mystery of - ‘who is LonleyGirl15 really?’ became an international investigation. Eventually, the hoax reveal has since become one of the most talked about and viral moments in YouTube history.
9. Susan Boyle
We’ll keep this short as pretty much everyone has seen this iconic viral vid–– but suffice to say that SuBo’s stunning performance wiping the smug smile off Simon Cowell’s face is one of popular culture’s greatest ‘flip the script’ moments!
10. Sneezing Panda
Don’t worry – we weren’t about to finish without including some kind of viral animal. The Internet is full of funny cats and cheeky dogs, but today's winner has to be the adorable sneezing Panda. Need cheering up? Watch the sneezing Panda! Having a bad day? Watch the sneezing Panda! Missed your bus in the rain? Watch the sneezing Panda! This video is a cure-all for most of life’s minor ills and therefore arguably the most deserving to go viral. These animals are truly amazing to watch - especially when they sneeze.
- Leave Britney Alone - Possibly one of the stranger things to be filmed on YouTube (no mean feat) and perhaps that’s its greatest appeal.
- Friday by Rebecca Black - If you know it, it’s is already stuck in your head. If you don’t, we’re truly sorry for implanting this earworm.
- Rickroll - This was the craze of sending people misleading links so they arrived at Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ video instead of what they expected.
- The roller skating babies of Evian on your Body – the Gallic mineral water pushers’ genius editing skills helped to create one of the most unforgettable moments in advert history.
Hopefully our Top 10 Viral Videos of all time have made you wipe your eyes in disbelief, balance on the edge of existential angst and then laugh your socks off for a few minutes before resuming normal service – you can thank us later.