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Perhaps better than nearly any other indicator, changes in the world of viral advertising signal the ways in which marketing, and the consumers to which it appeals have changed in the modern era. To begin, Ad Age now publishes an annual list of the top viral campaigns (measured by number of views), whereas just a few years ago, many companies ignored viral marketing, assuming that because it was largely uncontrollable, it also was nothing for them to concern themselves with.

In the four years Ad Age has been publishing the list, even more detailed trends have emerged as well. The top campaign for 2012 was not for a product or service being sold in a traditional sense but rather for a movement. Kony 2012 urged viewers to recognize and do something about the “Invisible Children” being exploited by a ruthless dictator. Approximately 215 million watched the difficult, heart-wrenching video.

Even among profit-based campaigns though, the products being marketed are clearly of the modern era. Two Angry Birds spots appear on the top 10 list (#3 and #10). Three other spots are taken up by technology-related marketers (Samsung #4 and #9, Intel and Toshiba #5). In this sense, Samsung arguably enjoyed the greatest viral success in 2012, because its two campaigns combined earned it more than 240 million views.

Two of the viral ads linked to a more conventional advertising tradition, naComputer Hackmely, sports (M&M’s Super Bowl ad was #6, and Proctor & Gamble’s Olympics-themed ad came in at #7). But the list also is notable in that four of the top ten were completely unrelated to any exposure through more traditional advertising media such as television. That is, there was no funny televised ad to go along with these campaigns, which means that their spread was facilitated mainly by individual consumers.

Finally, the criteria that Ad Age applies to determining its top ten are distinctly twenty-first century measures. It counts videos posted anywhere on the Web, not just YouTube, though it excludes Facebook posts. Moreover, it counts all versions of any particular campaign, including spoofs and revisions posted by users, with the recognition that such copies are “more important in a world of social-sharing where users take videos they like and make them their own.”

Source: Michael Learmonth, “Ad Age’s Top Viral Campaigns of 2012,” Ad Age, December 12, 2012.