10 of the best ever viral videos

TV commercials and print ads may not have had their day yet, but if you want to build some brand awareness really quickly then digital media is the way forward. Put simply, if your video goes viral then everyone's going to know your brand.

Opinion is divided as to how many views a video needs to be considered viral. A million? Five million? Over how many days? One? Seven? If it's uncertain what exactly counts as a viral video, then how exactly you make one is even more elusive.

Here are 10 of the best online ads ever, weighing in with hundreds of millions of view between them.

01. The Man Your Man Could Smell Like

Actor Isaiah Mustafa is the Man Your Man Could Smell Like. His rat-tat-tat monologues and the ad's slick scene changes – the work of Wieden+Kennedy – helped breath new life into an old brand.

The ad attracted 5.9 million views within 24 hours; Oldspice.com traffic increased 300%; Facebook fan interactions up 800%; Twitter followers increased by 2700%. Mustafa's pithy retorts to Tweets and Facebook comments extended the lifespan of the ad, creating conversations with viewers across multiple platforms.

Very quotable. Very watchable. Surreal and succinct.

02. Immortal Fans

Brazilian side Sport Club do Recife are known for their diehard supporters – see the throaty, wild-eyed second fan in the video for proof of that.

Ad agency Ogilvy Brazil set about channelling this passion into a particularly good cause. "We created the first organ donor card for a football team," the agency writes. "The donor card keeps their passion alive through the lives of others. And, at the same time, solves the biggest barrier to organ transplants in Brazil: family authorisation."

The video won 2013's D&AD White pencil, the award honouring creativity for social good and inspiring bigger conversations.

03. Clean Your Balls

Joy from My Name Is Earl hosts a fiction infomercial extolling the virtues off clean sporting good – balls, ball sacks. It's Carry On humour for the Angry Birds generation.

Owned by the British–Dutch company Unilever and marketed towards the young male demographic, Axe/Lynx has profited from a string of successful viral videos, many by the hand of advertising giant BBH.

Some quarters of the press claimed the ad was "over sexualised". But its two and half minutes of innuendo and double entendres proved a roaring success with its target audience.

04. It's Reinvented

Toyota is a brand that's come as close as any to mastering the fine art of the viral video. Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles's handiwork, this video shows how everyday items could be reinvented to be more useful: a couch made of semi-naked models, a traffic cop doubling as a masseuse, a non-pooping-time-machine baby. The denouement being the reveal of the "reinvented" Toyota Camry.

05. Paint the Town Black

Guinness is another brand with a longstanding traditional of exemplary advertising – Surfer, directed by Jonathan Glazer, arguably the greatest ad of all time.

Saatchi & Saatchi London take the lead on this one, painting the town black – as opposed to red – to celebrate Arthur’s Day, remembering the man who invented Guinness. Beautifully shot, with a great soundtrack, it's another classic for the booze brand's archives.

06. The Force

There may be no sure-fire way to securing viral success, but a video including cute kids, grumpy dogs and a Star Wars theme was always going to stand as a good a chance as any.

Young actor Max Page plays the pint-sized Darth Vader attempting to use the Force on all manner of everyday items, eventually succeeding – sort of – when his dad's Volkswagen roars into life at his command. The 2011 ad by Deutsch Inc. is approaching 60 millions views on YouTube.

07. The T-Mobile Royal Wedding

Before the tyranny of Kevin Bacon tithing about in fish and chip shops, T-Mobile commissioned some pretty entertaining ads. The T-Mobile Royal Wedding, another Saatchi & Saatchi London work, shows lookalike members of the royal family dancing their way into the not-real Will and Kate's ceremony.

Poking fun at the recent spate of wedding-dance memes, and not quite as cringey as the real wedding, the ad's chalked up almost 30 million YouTube views.

08. Dove Real Beauty Sketches

This is the set up: several women describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist. He can't see them. The same women are then described to the artist by strangers. Sketches are compared. The stranger's image is, of course, far more flattering.

It may not be to everyone's taste, but it terms of speaking directly to the brand's target audience, Ogilvy & Mather couldn't have done it much better. Over 60m hits and counting.

09. Extreme Sheep LED Art

Remember this? A herd of sheep, a ton of LED lights, well-trained sheepdog and frustrated-artists shepherd: the result is Samsung's classic viral ad. But its it real?

Matt Smith, the co-founder of ad agency The Viral Factory said: "The people on camera are real farmers and they were really controlling the sheepdogs. Rather than trying to fake it all we did it for real. The sheep herding bit is straight up – no trickery but there is a fair amount of computer trickery and post production work. We thought the Mona Lisa was the big wink to people – once they saw that we thought they would realise it was not all real."

10. Toast to Courage

Picture the scene: you head to the flicks, you're on a date, there are only two seats left; two seats in the centre of the theatre surrounded by gnarled and tattooed bikers.

That's the position several unsuspecting couples find themselves in in this hidden-camera ad. Once they do sit down, they receive a nice round of applause from the nice bikers and they all drink their delicious Carlsberg. Simple but effective work by Monodot.

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Gary Evans is a journalist with a passion for creative writing. He's recently finished his Masters in creative writing, but when he's not hitting the books, he loves to explore the world of digital art and graphic design. He was previously staff writer on ImagineFX magazine in Bath, but now resides in Sunderland, where he muses on the latest tech and writes poetry.