Viral Video Study Part 1: Amazing Stunts and Spectacles

Viral Video Study Part 1: Amazing Stunts and Spectacles
Red Bull Stratos: World Record Skydiving Attempt by Felix Baumgartner

The key to understanding how viral videos spread is knowing what motivates people to share.

What common traits do successfully branded viral videos share? I’ve been researching videos that have amassed millions of views in an attempt to find the common denominator. This is the first in a series of articles examining the most viral videos on the Internet produced by brands with the original intention of going viral.

This ten part series will offer a sampling of branded videos I have grouped into the following genres:

  1. Amazing Stunts and Spectacles – The web is a circus (This post)
  2. Pranksters – Smile, you are interacting with our brand on candid camera!
  3. Take it to the Streets – Public displays of art and performances are viral gold.
  4. Extreme Demos – Will it blend? Boring demonstration videos certainly do not.
  5. Memewashing – Brands riding the coat-tails of the most sharable memes.
  6. Aggressive Transparency – A peek behind the curtain builds viral credibility
  7. So Bad It’s Good – These viral videos take “low budget” to a new low.
  8. Crazy Creative – Creative concepts that beg to be shared.
  9. Emotion in Motion – Nothing motivates viral evangelism like a story that inspires.
  10. The Dancing Cat – This post covers the stranger viral ingredients that work.
  11. Nation’s Pride – Nothing spreads like patriotic appeal.

There are almost no limits to how far some companies will go to get your attention. If you spend enough time on Youtube, you may start to feel like you are under a giant digital circus tent. Instead of 3 rings, there are millions of rings each with their own ringmasters and troops vying for your undivided attention. There are plenty of clowns, freaks and carnies to watch, but these are called “side shows” for a reason.

We respond to things that fulfill our primal needs. That is why we love stunts. We get the premise, suspense, and the final payoff (or fail, depending on what blogs you like watch). Like PT Barnum, modern viral video ringleaders know their audience is looking for the adrenaline rush delivered with the “big act”. Catching an awesome stunt or world-record attempt (even if it is made up) gives your video a fighting chance at going viral.

This can include concocted world record attempts, like longest golf drive caught in a moving car (See the Mercedes ad below). It doesn’t have to be dangerous either. It can be as simple as basketball dunks, puzzle solving, or weird stuff like this. The trick to the trick is to make sure that you go big or go home. The purpose is to give your audience something to talk about.


Yes, many of the viral video examples below had large budgets to work with, but that is definitely not a requirement for producing a stunt or video that goes viral. With the right amount of creativity and ingenuity, you can pull off a spectacle at almost any budget. To get your mental wheels turning, check out a sampling of viral videos that are picking up views in the millions.

Red Bull Stratos

In one of the most notorious and successful stunts in viral video history, Red Bull decided to take it to the next level. Literally. They chose to sponsor a “medical and scientific” research project with Austrian Skydiver Felix Baumgartner to attempt the highest sky-dive on record.

Baumgartner was going to make the 36,600 m (120,100 ft) jump from a capsule suspended from a balloon filled with helium, intending to become the first parachutist to break the sound barrier. This would be possible because while the normal terminal velocity of a skydiver freeflying is about 320 km/h (200 mph or 90 m/s), the high altitude with less dense atmosphere would decrease drag.

1,000,000 distinct user accounts contributed to the social conversation surrounding Red Bull Stratos. 2,000,000 new accounts subscribed for Red Bull updates across all brand presences in the space of 15 days.

By creating an event that was so singular and creative, Red Bull tapped the potential to bypass the other gold standards of traditional marketing dominated by large corporations. “When you’re in the Super Bowl, you’re one of 70 ads or so. When you go around the NASCAR track, you’re one of 44 teams,” Sturner said. “This is about owning something that will leave an impression.” –Huffington Post, Red Bull Stratos May Change Future Of Marketing

Mercedes Benz: The Catch

Driving the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster, David Coulthard caught a golf ball (hit by Jake Shepherd) while driving the car. The ball was travelling at 178mph and was caught 275 metres from the tee, setting the record for the ‘furthest golf shot caught in a moving car.’ The stunt required a special black golf ball so that Coulthard could see it travelling through the air.

What a great way to showcase the speed of the vehicle and align with a common interest (golf) of a huge demographic for the car company. This video and has racked up over 2 million views on YouTube and is a great example of using a stunt to showcase a product.

DC Shoes: Gymkhana Practice

Looking to get more seat time, DC’s Ken Block built his Subaru STI for a gymkhana racing series (which later became defunct). Ken decided to take it to El Toro airfield, and have some fun. Fortunately for us he brought a camera crew to capture the now famous Gymkhana Practice.The DC Ken Block Gymkhana Project is a viral phenomenon with well over 135 Million views worldwide and a collection of more than 40+ videos. The Gymkhana franchise has won countless awards including top rated, most shared video series and most recently received the award for #1 viral video ad of 2011.

It’s always been a surprise to us just how successful these videos have been. I think part of it is giving people something that they haven’t seen before. A lot of people know about rally racing but they don’t get a chance to see the cars getting pushed in this way and certainly not in the environments that we use. So what we basically did was take the best of four wheel and aggressive driving and put it in a package that was easy to watch and had a short program. That’s kind of in our mind why they’ve been so successful. This style of driving and what’s done with these cars is amazing, and we’ve just showcased it in a way that anybody can sit down and watch it for a few minutes and appreciate just how technical it is and how well these cars can be driven.

Fast Co Create – How to Make a Blockbuster the Gymkhana Way

Volvo’s “Ballerina” Stunt

Volvo asked Faith Dickey, a world class rope walker, to go from one moving Volvo FH to another by crossing a rope tied between two Volvo. Of course there is a time bomb element. Otherwise, it won’t be exciting. The two Volvo FH trucks were driving towards two side-by-side tunnels with beams in the middle. Each truck is to go through one tunnel. If she doesn’t make it on time, it would be bad. Ultimately she did, and both the final video and the “making of” videos became viral senstations.

Columbia’s Omni-Heat Electric vs. Wim Hof

Dutch stuntman Wim Hof, aka “Iceman” has been in the Guinness Book of World Records 18 times. His antics were a perfect match for a Columbia Sportswear viral campaign. He was hired for a Columbia Sportswear campaign for their Omni-Heat line as an “anti-spokesperson”. The campaigns main video introduces Wim sitting on an ice cube, followed by him doing various stunts on the ice, accompanied by a documentary-style voice over.

Practical Application Ideas:

I am not suggesting that you need to go to the stratosphere to cut through the clutter. A great video can be made at almost any budget with the right amount of creativity. To make this article a bit more useful, I am going to attempt to offer a few hastily concocted ideas to help get you started coming up with your own stunts and spectacles.

Make up a silly yet unattempted world record, and attempt to set it with the help of your brand message. It doesn’t have to defy death, but it does need to defy convention. Put a twist on it.

Find and approach an individual with a unique talent, advanced skill or special ability and get them to perform a stunt. Make sure to put a twist tie your product or service in with it. The video will feature this individual performing their talent or demonstrating their skill while wearing, using, standing next to, or in conjunction with your product or service. The idea is to amaze the viewer in some way. Example: Fastest shoe tier in the world Johnny Doe goes up against an average Joe that uses your patented product, Velcro, to beat him. It may be lame, but I came up with that in 15 seconds. You can do much better.

Search for an interesting person or group attempting to accomplish a feat live, or someone who demonstrated an interesting talent online that can be re-shot professionally. Approach them with your idea for a similar feat built around a new theme. They may jump at the opportunity.

If you have a great idea or access to talent, but have no idea how to tie it in with your brand, get silly with it. The product or service may be completely unrelated to the stunt, and have no influence on the final result, but pretend it does. This will add a bit of humor to the situation, which makes your video that much more sharable. For example: Can our new super hot sauce help track champion Johhny Doe run even faster? Well, what do you know, it did! (Water was available at the finish line)
I hope that this post helps give you a few ideas about how you can integrate a stunt into your video campaign.