elements of viral video

The psychology behind why some videos go viral has been researched many times. One of the most iconic and infamous virals video titled “Charlie bit my finger – again!” has a little more than 850 million views at the time I write this article.


The content is simple: Two boys, Harry and Charlie, are sitting on a chair when Charlie, the younger brother, bites Harry’s finger. What makes it go viral?

Jonah Berger, an assistant professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, researched the video. The answer, according to Jonah’s study, is related to the visceral emotions it gives viewers.

But is that the only factor that makes a video go viral?

After the Charlie video surfaced, other viral videos emerged. Using the resources at my disposal (and my impeccable skill at watching videos on the internet), I was able to draw out several factors that can make a video go viral. Let’s get started.


Timing is really important for making a video go viral. If a video relates to what’s happening in the world, or at the very least in a certain region of the world, it has a great chance to spread like wildfire.

Recently, the movie Logan was released, and there was a pre-roll teaser for another X-Men movie, Deadpool 2.

For those who don’t know yet, Logan and Deadpool are sort of best frenemies in the Marvel comics, but due to legal issues, the two have yet to appear in the same movie. Given the nature of Deadpool’s mockery of Logan, this clip was what Marvel fans were craving:

Sure enough, the teaser quickly gained views on YouTube. Comic nerds talked about it on their personal YouTube channel;, moviegoers told their friends about it; and entertainment websites posted their insights online.

Another example of a videos that went viral at just the right time is Ben Affleck’s sad face.

This video blew up due to the fact that Affleck’s new movie, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, had been receiving mixed reviews. It was arguably the most anticipated movie during that time, and it kinda flopped.

But now that the day of cheering (or day of mourning?) for BvS is over, the video is stagnant and no longer receives a surge of views.

That’s the downside of time-relevant viral videos: When the hype is over, it’s as good as dead.


Who is the video about and what is that person doing?

A video that showcases a famous person is more likely to spread because of, well, fame. It’s like starting a wildfire with a jug of gasoline and a pack of matches.

I can give you a range of examples for this one, but I picked a recent one that is still relevant:

Technically it’s a gif, but you get the point.

Videos of important or famous people often go viral, especially if the videos have controversial value. You will rarely see videos on the Internet where Donald Trump is portrayed as a good, upstanding person. The majority of the Internet doesn’t really like him, and let’s face it, he is sometimes plain ridiculous.

Place of Origin

A video that originated from Snapchat will find its way to YouTube and Twitter, but the hype will have died out by then because people will have seen it.

In other words: the intended initial audience matters. The first impression matters. If the first few audience members who see the video don’t think it’s worth their time or the effort to share it, it will flop.

The key words here: Intended audience.

That’s what you need to keep in mind if you want to make your company’s video go viral.

Likewise, if a video receives tons of viewers who are not from the intended audience group, it’s a viral video — but not necessarily a successful one. It only means a lot of people know about it, but they don’t really know what to do about it, like this Damn, Daniel video, which is essentially a guy filming his friend, Daniel while shouting “Damn, Daniel!” in various tones.

A video can be considered successful when it reaches its intended viewers and receives positive responses.

Some time ago, we made an explainer video to showcase how we make explainer videos for our clients.

It’s only received a little north of one thousand views, but they’ve come from the audience we had in mind. The results have room for improvement, but we’re proud to call it a successful one.

Core Content

The last but not least element that can influence a video’s viral quality: content. Every viral video has core content, regardless of its value. Some viral videos have content that seems pointless, like the “Damn, Daniel!” video.

However, if we get to its core, that video gives viewers a repetitive cheesy jokes, jokes that are so extremely dumb, they force out the laugh from the viewers.

The point is, however shallow the content of a viral video might be, there’s a reason many people watch it and share it with their friends.

It’s not limited to cheesy jokes or cat videos or funny fails. Some of the most viral videos on the Internet are in fact infuriating, saddening, depressing or mildly uncomfortable to watch.

It all comes down to one question: What is the video’s purpose?

Back when Breadnbeyond was an early startup, we tried making an explainer video that educated people about Pinterest.

Pinterest was, and still is, an outright amazing website, but it wasn’t that well-known back then.

The purpose was to introduce Pinterest to our audience, and sure enough we did just that. It now has a little over 170,000 views.

A promotional video is less likely to go viral since most of them revolve around a product or a company and rambling on about why people should buy the product from them. However, a few promotional videos have blown up on the Internet, mainly due to how entertaining they are.

Here are some examples of the most entertaining promotional explainers to watch.

Closing Thought

Virality in a video is good for awareness, especially when it’s a commercial or promotional video. However, the likelihood of a commercial video going viral is rather low. Judging from the empirical data, only a handful of promotional videos get widely recognized by the Internet.

That’s why I made this round up. I wanted to share with other marketers what it means for a video to go viral and what aspects overlap between one viral video and the others.

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