LCI Blog: YouTube Sensations and Sensational YouTube – What Happens When Videos Go Viral?

By Jordana Heinke, LCI Assistant Account Executive.

For a majority of the public, YouTube has become a legitimate go-to source for entertainment, discovery and even self-promotion. We’re now up-to-the-minute experts, reciting jokes from the latest internet memes at the water cooler. Some of us even re-create our own versions of popular videos. But what causes a video to go viral? And most importantly, whose stardom has been launched as a result?

Companies and individuals alike have found a home on YouTube. Viewers are willing to spend as much as 30 minutes of their bus rides, lunch hours or workout routines absorbing the latest in Internet entertainment. What makes YouTube so massively popular is that it can be digested in short chunks – filling the mundane minutes in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. Perhaps even more important, watching others on YouTube conveys the sense of watching yourself, or someone like you, with a video camera and a bit more time on their hands.

Who Uses YouTube?

 Companies: Vegemite created Happy Little Vegemite Cat (67.3 million hits) which became an instant YouTube sensation (viewed 50 million times this year). The video led to a wide variety of spin-offs and parodies, creating an international sensation.

Individuals: The Gregory Brothers, a pair of and refreshingly “average” guys with a penchant for music-mixing, came up with an amazingly popular series called “Auto-Tune the News.” They gained fame by creatively re-engineering news clips into catchy songs. As a testament to their popularity, people actually dressed as Antoine Dodson for Halloween in 2010.

Creative types: Artists and filmmakers – from the serious to the aspiring – use YouTube hoping to get their work seen by the millions of users. Check out Marcel the Shell Part I and Part II and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Why Do Videos Go Viral?

In this recent TED Talk video, (posted by Gizmodo) Kevin Allocca, trends manager at YouTube, discusses why videos go viral. Here are the two key takeaways:

Taste Makers: Influencers like Jimmy Kimmel can hurdle even the most obscure video into viral insanity with a simple tweet (think Alec Baldwin and the now uber-popular app game, Words with Friends).

Community Participation: Parody videos can boost both popular and obscure clips into the Viral Hall of Fame by simply creating buzz around the original video. Imitation is, after all, the most sincere form of flattery.

A third “viral-making” category I’d like to insert here is a sort of “top down” model, wherein celebrities whose claims-to-fame stem from outside the parameters of YouTube create their own virally sensational videos. Here’s one by actress Jennifer Aniston on just how to accomplish that. This week, we also delighted in seeing two of the Glee kids teaching us how to Dougie (12.5 million hits and counting).

Sensational vs. Stardom

YouTube as a platform for sensationalizing offbeat personalities has worked for many of its users, an excess of which have enjoyed internet fame. The laundry list of names includes (but is certainly not limited to) Justine, The Annoying Orange, Antoine Dodson and Yosemite Mountain Bear (the list is growing as I type).

There are, however, those who actually step out of the YouTube-o-sphere and into the world of mainstream fame. Teen singer Justin Bieber is a prime example. He started his career on YouTube and has now reached mega-stardom. And, as recently covered in the New York Times, Kate Upton used YouTube to launch her runway modeling career and to land the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. It all started with this video where she performed popular hip hop dance, The Dougie.

They were discovered. They became stars. And they have virool YouTube to thank for it.

Do you have a favorite YouTube sensation? Send your thoughts to