In the good ‘ol days, a solid commercial campaign could last a company the better part of a year. If you were a major corporate player, you’d launch during the Super Bowl, then continue to buy 30-second prime time slots for your ad well into summer.

Although television still has its place in advertising, most corporations now recognize that the most promising and cost-effective medium for video advertising is online. Fortunately for viewers, that means that standards have been raised.

Sure, any company with money can buy a 15-second spot and stick it in front of a popular YouTube video, forcing viewers to sit through their pitch before getting to the content they clicked for. The smart companies, however, know that the winning ad is the one they clicked to see in the first place.

Take Stove Top’s new “Angry Pilgrim” campaign, for example. Since its launch on April 5, over 1 million people have viewed the 30-second clip of a pilgrim complaining about people eating stuffing on days other than Thanksgiving. Even though the video is clearly an advertisement for Stove Top, its informal approach (the pilgrim is encouraging people NOT to use their product year-round) ingratiates itself to viewers. The humorous approach builds trust and positive brand recognition.

Let’s say you’re a company that sets up cloud systems for office environments. Don’t limit yourself in your concept. Remember, funny kittens can sell cloud software. All you want to do is hook your viewer and make them like you. Only then should you introduce or reinforce your brand for recognition.

1. Choose a Witty, Descriptive Title

Although titling your video comes late in the process, it’s important to think about early on. Think about a concept with a witty title that will catch viewers’ attention. For better or worse, silly and dumbed-down ridiculousness often sells in America. “Hamsters Floating on Clouds” might work perfectly fine for your cloud computing company.

2. Don’t Forget the Thumbnail

You’ll need an image to capture peoples’ attention as they browse videos looking for something to watch. If you’ve titled your video “Hamsters Floating on Clouds,” give them exactly that. Text on a flat background just won’t cut it, even if that’s how your video begins.

3. Brevity is Your Best Friend

Even before people press play on a video, they innately look at how long it is. Four-and-a-half minutes? Chances are, they’re already skipping ahead and looking forward to the next video. Especially when marketing something, you’ll want to keep your videos under two minutes. Oftentimes, half-a-minute is the perfect amount of time to hold someone’s attention, and it’s often all you’ll get anyways.

4. Keywords Make You Searchable

YouTube, Vimeo, and other services let you enter both meta-tag keywords and a video description. Think about what people will be looking for when they find you. Yes, you want ‘hamster’ in your hamster video, but you also might want to turn up when they search for ‘small business solutions,’ ‘data storage,’ and ‘cloud software.’ Don’t forget to type it all in there.

5. Share It

You can’t just make a video and expect it to spread like Kony 2012 on its own. After you post it online, send it out via your Facebook and Twitter network. Pin it on Pinterest. Post it to Digg and StumbleUpon. Email it to all of your friends, and ask them to do the same thing. Of course, they’ll only do that if you…

6. Don’t Settle For Anything Less Than Awesome

You will never make a video that goes viral unless you give your absolute full creative effort to the production. Walking around an office talking to employees about how cloud computing makes their life better might be completely true, but no one’s going to share that with their friends. Now imagine an ad with an office that’s literally crawling with hamsters that are ‘floating’ on huge piles of cotton balls. Sounds scary, but I’d probably watch that, and I might just post it to my Facebook Timeline.

7. Careful with the Marketing

Starting a marketing video by identifying the service or product you’re pushing is a recipe for failure. People instinctively turn away when they feel like they’re being sold something. Be subtle with your sales pitch. Hook them first. Either intrigue and generate an emotion or simply make them laugh. Then identify yourself. If they trust you first and connect, they won’t feel jaded by your pitch.

There’s no magic bullet to become the next viral Internet video, but you’re guaranteed not to get there if you don’t at least lay the proper groundwork. Make a quality, entertaining video that stands alone, even if you remove your product pitch from the storyline. If people will want to watch it anyways, than you’ve created a vehicle that will market itself and spread faster than even the most expensive TV ad spot can accomplish.