Popularity of Commercials & Top 10 video commercials for 2008

YouTube is a great barometer for the success of commercials - even if they were originally perceived as TV commercials. YouTube's view count indicates how many people have watched the video and since YouTube's visitors are in general the same audience audience as the target audience of most TV commercials, YouTube's metrics provide a great indicator of the popularity of commercials.

Several lists of top viral or popular videos have been published. We now look at the top video ads of all time, the top ones of 2008, and the top spenders of 2008. I have extracted all the key stats as of today from YouTube.

The following ads are the top 5 of all time (according to the " Great Advertising, Clever Ads " blog).

Rank Video Views
Avg Rating
Added Copies
1 PEPSI (Britney Spears, Beyonce, Pink - We Will Rock You) 23,234,904 26,865 41,376 87,385 4.5 February 03, 2006 200
2 Zazoo Condoms (Banned Commercial) 13,136,921 19,537 82,003 61,433 5.0 162
3 Levis 2007 collection 9,572,429 291 1,499 2,570 4.5 29
4 Dove evolution 8,173,821 3,356 7,621 26,779 5.0 282
5 Britney Spears Pepsi Superbowl Commercial 6,861,772 5,614 7,299 13,804 4.5 242

What I noticed while collecting the stats was that while I only point out the top performing copy of the commercial, there are often many copies. Most of these copies pale in view count against the main copy, however sometimes (as is the case for the Levis 2007 collection ad) the copies can also achieve hundreds of thousands of views. So, an aggregate view count would be a lot more representative for the popularity of the commercials than the view count of the highest achiever.

Also I noticed that going beyond the top 5 makes it really muddy, since many commercials have around 6M views.

Please note that movie trailers and game trailers have been kep out of this ranking - e.g. "Quantum of Solace" achieved about 8M views across the top 8 copies of the trailer, though every single copy didn't achieve more than 2.1M. Music videos are also outside the ranking since they play in a different league with the popular ones having far above 30M views.

The following ads are the top 10 commercials of 2008 on YouTube:

Rank Video Views
Avg Rating
Added Copies
1 Pepsi - SoBe Lifewater 3,652,217 5,128 6,298 17,945 4.5 approx 30
2 Cadbury - Gorilla 3,338,011 6,309 5,078 16,383 5.0 approx 100 (but at least twice that many mash-ups)
3 Nike - Take it to the NEXT LEVEL 3,184,329 6,534 7,167 23,436 5.0 approx 200 (many in non-English)
4 Macbook Air
2,648,717 6,710 2,537 4,771 4.5 approx 50 (but at least 4 times that many mash-ups)
5 Centraal Beheer Insurance - Gay Adam 2,512,425 3,273 3,237 9,415 4.5 approx 75 (Dutch forbidden commercial)
6 Vodafone - Beatbox
2,380,237 1,357 3,245 5,265 5.0 approx 15 (Portugese commercial)
7 E*Trade - Trading Baby 2,061,818 2,731 5 ,068 13,647 5.0 approx 200 (also in different languages)
8 Guitar Hero - Heidi Klum 1,068,055 1,022 864 2,002 4.5 approx 200 (but it is still fairly new)
9 Bridgestone - Scream 980,406 791 1,670 4,814 5.0 approx 50 (plus a few parodies)
10 Bud Light- Will Ferrell 966,177 403 1,212 3,395 4.5 approx 50
Favorable mention OLPC - John Lennon 527,953 1,201 828 385 2.5 approx 5 (very young ad)
Favorable mention Blendtec - iPhone 3G 2,711,195 10,211 8,163 7,400 4.5 approx 50 (many imitations)
Favorable mention Stide Gum - Where the hell is Matt? 15,859,204 46,920 57,931 99,040 5.0 approx 10 (but many more imitations)

Please note: The last two are not really countable because they have built on an existing viral video meme and thus were removed from the count. Interestingly, the Visa ad that was a lot less subtle in the advertising message also received a lot less views than the Stide Gum, which is rather a sponsorship than an ad.

It is interesting to see that these ads have achieved quite a following in the short time that some of them have been around. Given a few years to catch up, the Gorilla ad, the Guitar Hero ad, or even the OLPC ad may well end up amongst the most popular ever.

The next lot of well performing commercials after these are in the 250K-500K range and are mostly Superbowl ads (e.g. Career Builder , Diet Pepsi Max , Bud Light Fire , Fedex Carrier Pidgeons , Audi R8 Godfather , Pepsi Justin Timberlake Fly , Bud Light Fly , Bud Light Cheese ), just like many of the most popular ads are also superbowl ads (e.g. E*Trade Baby, Bridgestone Scream, Bud Light Will Ferrell, Careerbuilder Heart). There are also a few really badly performing superbowl ads, so advertising at superbowl is not sufficient for creating a popular ad. However, the superbowl certainly helps to reach a large number of viewers for those ads that are entertaining in the first place (this top 10 superbowl ads video summary achieved 1,167,754 views by itself).

Looking at the ads that Nielsen touted as the best-liked TV commercials of 2008, one has to wonder if most of Nielsen's panel consists of children or caring parents, since they are mostly the cute ones with animals in them or other family-related stories. Checking back with the view numbers on YouTube for these videos, there is no overlap with the most viewed videos other than the Budweiser fire ad. The top popular ad according to Nielsen is the NFL story of Chester Pitts which only achieved a view count of 76,442.

So, in comparison to the top performing commercials, the big question is: what numbers make a commercial popualar and therefore a viral success?

Feed Company undertook a survey amongst agencies to find out what their expectations were for a viral campaign. Twenty-eight percent of respondents considered 1 million views successful; around 22 percent each would settle for 500,000, 250,000 or 100,000 views.

What does this all tell us?

The successful ones are easy to judge. If e.g. a video achieves more than 500K views in a short time, say 6 months, it can definitely be considered viral. This is for an ad that has basically a world-wide audience. According to the superbowl results, ads that achieve more than250K views within a year should still be considered viral successes.

In the 100K area, it becomes more complicated. Depending on the time frame, the size of the target audience, the language of the ad, the impact in sales created, and possibly other factors, such a view count can still be considered a viral success.

Lesson learnt: It is important to create an expectation for what is considered a success in terms of view count and in other metrics before starting a campaign, such as to be able to judge the success afterwards.

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