Image from Android's "Friends Furever" Viral Ad

8 viral ads that won 2015

The Internet has transformed advertising, opening new paths and creating new genres for commercial filmmakers.

These are some of the most shared videos of 2015, each viral ad demonstrating ways the Internet continues to disrupt traditional content creation.

1. Android, “Friends Furever”

Smart content creators look at viral videos to learn what people like. Even smarter creators take viral video formats and repurpose them to get their message out. Android’s “Friends Furever” is basically just a YouTube compilation video with a message at the end, but it’s fresh and fun to watch. More importantly, it works—”Friends Furever” was the most viral ad of 2015.

2. Disney Parks, “Disney Characters Surprise Shoppers”

This viral ad uses a tried and true advertising strategy—the filmed live event. Videos in this style tend to feel staged, but “Disney Characters Surprise Shoppers” is surprisingly heartfelt and convincing. Its longer run time (2 minutes, 16 seconds) allows the filmmakers to use more natural pacing in the edit, which gives viewers the chance to relate to the people on-screen and share a sense of nostalgia at the end.

3. Purina, “Puppyhood”

Purina partnered with Buzzfeed to produce “Puppyhood,” a cute short video about a young adult and his new puppy. It’s not exactly a short film, but it’s not what you’d expect from an ad, either. “Puppyhood” represents the next big step in sponsored content. Most ads are still trying to interrupt or distract you from watching something else. With more than three million shares, Purina and Buzzfeed demonstrated that sponsored content like “Puppyhood” can be the destination itself.

4. GEICO, “Unskippable”

Adweek chose “Unskippable” as the best ad of 2015. GEICO’s viral ad is a perfect example of a commercial designed around the context people will see it in. “Unskippable” was created for the web, meaning that its largest audience would be seeing it on services like YouTube and Hulu. And so the ad begins with a joke about YouTube pre-roll videos. It’s funny, contemporary, and succeeded in getting viewers to watch all the way to the end.

5. Adidas, “Unfollow feat. Leo Messi”

The celebrity athlete commercial has become something of a cliche. Adidas shakes it up by mixing TV news footage, social media, and dynamic sports content, demonstrating what it means to be a celebrity today. It then flips the script when Messi encourages his fans to “unfollow” him in order to make their own dreams come true. Using music from a lesser-known artist (P.O.S. “Stand Up”), “Unfollow” makes it feel like Messi’s own personal anthem. Mixing the mega-popular with the somewhat obscure gives the viral ad a unique tone.

6. “The Collective Project: Robert Downey Jr. Delivers a Real Bionic Arm”

Who says a viral ad can’t be both funny and inspirational? Microsoft Office’s video with The Collective Project mixed an inspirational message, a moving event, and a giant movie star to generate a major crowd-pleaser. Kleenex’s “Unlikely Best Friends” was similarly inspiring, but didn’t generate as many shares. It’s hard to say whether it’s the humor or the movie star that makes The Collective Project’s video so appealing, but the combination was enough to generate more than ten million views on YouTube.

7. Red Nose Day, “Coldplay’s Game of Thrones: The Musical”

A mockumentary following a famous rock band, who are working on a musical about the biggest TV sh0w in the world. Narrated by Liam Neeson. It’s easy to see how “Coldplay’s Game of Thrones: The Musical” tallied 15 million views, even though it’s 12 minutes long. What’s not clear is what the video had to do with the Red Nose Day charity. Rather than creating a typical call to arms video, Red Nose Day gave viewers entertaining content and then invited them to donate if they enjoyed it. It’s a whole new kind of viral ad. Did their strategy pay off? It’s hard to say; we’ll see if they take a similar approach next year.

8. The Ad Council, “Love Has No Labels”

The Ad Council used a giant X-ray to show people how their feelings have been affected by unknown biases. It’s a classic device, brilliantly used. If that great idea wasn’t enough, they joined the live event with a music video format, creating a video that punches through prejudice to hit the audience right in the heart.

As traditional models become less powerful, filmmakers have the opportunity to tailor their content to the stories they want to tell and the spaces they want to tell them in. Sponsored content and viral ads allow for a truer blend of filmmaking and advertising than ever before.

Stephen Heleker

Stephen is a producer and writer/director living in Los Angeles. His first feature film as a producer—Good, starring Keith David—debuted at the 2020 Austin Film Festival. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @stephenheleker

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