Why Companies Are Catching The Viral Video Virus

A set of stairs made into a gigantic piano. A recycling bin that awards points for each deposit. A bottomless trash can. What do these things have to do with Volkswagen?

Nothing except a small VW logo that appears after the video. It's The Fun Theory, a series of web videos from the German automaker showing how to make routine tasks more fun. I guess it's official: The viral video madness has truly gone viral.

T-Mobile caught the bug with its "Life's for Sharing" videos, which depict hundreds of seemingly regular commuters and pedestrians breaking out in choreographed song and dance in a various locales. The two-minute dance video recorded at London's Liverpool Street Station in January has been viewed more than 15 million times on YouTube. Seven million people have watched a blender destroy an iPhone. That video was produced by the blender's maker, a Utah company called BlendTec. Microsoft tricked millions of viewers with this unreal (literally) waterslide video.

Ray-Ban and Never Hide Films were behind a series of videos in which one guy tosses Ray-Ban Wayfarers off bridges and buildings and another catches them on his face. And "even after [the video] was shown to be fake however, the quality and the uniqueness of the idea ensured that people continue to watch it and share it with others," writes The Future of Ads.

Yes, these videos are totally cool. Yes, my aunt really loves forwarding them around the family. But do they work? I suppose the effect, much like a regular advertisement, is difficult to quantify. Mashable.com explains:

"...[The] content carries that logo all around the web, as tens of thousands of people pass around the video, along with their positive associations for the VW brand. Isn't that the definition of a perfect brand campaign?"

Yes, it is. Viral videos might appear newish, but there's nothing novel about corporate image advertising. Consumer choose to drive Volkswagen over Toyota (or use T-Mobile over Sprint, or wear Ray-Bans over Oakleys) because of MPG stats (and data plans and pricetags). But shoppers aren't robots. Emotional preferences, influenced by ineffable criteria like "coolness," unquestionably move us. If the coolness factor didn't exist, few people would wear Ray-Bans in the first place! What makes a lifetime Camry owner consider checking out the VW Passat's specs online? Maybe it's that funny video forwarded to her inbox.