The 10 most epic viral ads of 2013

  • Living
  • Tuesday, 31 Dec 2013

We take a look at 10 of the year’s best advertisements – from Volvo Trucks’ epic split to Google India’s beautiful reunion.

In 2013, advertisements didn’t just have to be conceptually and visually interesting, they also had to be awesome, deal with something beyond the product and touch our hearts. But most importantly, they had to go viral.

In that sense, the most successful was Volvo Trucks’ The Epic Split featuring action star Jean-Claude Van Damme executing a split between two Volvo trucks. It was a marvelous feat of precision that left viewers genuinely awed.

For the effort, the ad garnered over 65 million views on YouTube, making it the most watched automotive ad of all time.

But while Volvo scored big, most marketers only manage a fraction of the audience numbers. “Everybody wants their ads to go viral,” says Ted Marzilli, CEO of consumer perception research firm BrandIndex. “But if there was a playbook to do that, you would just follow the recipe and your ad would go viral.”

There is no recipe, though. If anything, the best ads opened up our imagination to new ways of seeing. Here’s our pick of the best of 2013. Note: the YouTube viewcounts listed below are accurate as of Dec 31.

Volvo Trucks: The Epic Split feat. Van Damme (Live Test Six)

Published on Nov 13, 2013

YouTube views: 66,025,897

Director: Andreas Nilsson, Folke Film

Agency: Forsman & Bodenfors, Sweden 

Volvo Trucks had been posting a series of so-called Live Tests on YouTube since August 2012. These were basically hair-raising stunts – a hamster steering a truck, a ballerina slack-lining across two trucks, and dangling Volvo Trucks’ president over a jetty – that doubled as ads.

But The Epic Split was the most audacious. Filmed in Spain on a closed-off landing field at sunrise in one take, 53-year-old Van Damme stood on the side-mirrors of two Globetrotter trucks going in reverse and did a jaw-dropping split – without breaking a sweat.

Add Van Damme’s self-aggrandising voiceover and Enya’s ethereal music, it became a hypnotic and funny but mostly magnificent ode to epic-ness.

Robinson’s: Pals

Published on May 3, 2013

YouTube views: 1,008,589

Director: Si & Ad at Academy Films

Agency: BBH London, Britain

Family-themed advertisements often verge on the mawkish, especially when they pander to the “perfect family” cliché.

Robinson’s, a British soft drinks company, however, added an interesting twist to the end of its Pals plug. What looks like a typical sunny day of platonic bonding between two boys – fake sword-fighting, rough-housing, carousel-spinning – gets a magical revelation in its closing scenes as one of the boys carries the other into bed and tucking him in for a night’s sleep.

In the last shot, the sleeping boy says “Good night, dad” before revealing the other boy to be his father. The result is an unexpectedly sweet and smart tribute to the relationship between fathers and sons as encapsulated in the ad’s catchphrase: “It’s good to be a dad. It’s better to be a friend.”

Dove: Real Beauty Sketches 

Published on April 14, 2013

YouTube views: 61,230,096

Director: John X. Carey, Paranoid US

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Brazil

In the ongoing struggle to attain unrealistic ideals of beauty, Dove makes a case for challenging women’s perceptions of their own looks with a spot that’s both startling and moving. Ad agency Ogilvy Brazil hired FBI forensic artist Gil Zamora to sketch a group of women without seeing their faces.

For each woman, Zamora produces two portraits based on two sets of descriptions – first by the subject herself and then by a stranger whom she met briefly. The women are then invited to view their portraits and the results are revelatory: the self-described ones are distorted by personal insecurities while the portraits described by others are less so.

What could’ve been a depressing realisation is then quickly transformed with an empowering message: “You are more beautiful than you think” – scoring a win for feminists everywhere.

Guinness: Basketball

Published on April 14, 2013

YouTube views: 7,967,465

Director: Noam Murro, Biscuit Filmworks

Agency: BBDO New York, US

Team sports and male camaraderie – two perennial subjects in beer ads – gets not one but two twists in Guinness’ Basketball ad. The first twist is that all the actors are shooting hoops while strapped to wheelchairs, presumably making a statement about how disabled people shouldn’t be dismissed as physically weak.

Then comes the second twist: at the end of the game, all the men get up from their wheelchairs and walk off the court except for one, implying that true friends will make the effort to walk in their mates’ shoes, no matter what.

Set to a swelling soundtrack and the grave pronouncement that “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character”, the ad’s uplifting message is both powerful and poignant.

Evian: Baby & Me

Published on April 19, 2013

YouTube views: 69,264,612

Director: We are From LA

Agency: BETC, Paris

Lightning seldom strikes twice in the world of advertising but for Evian it did. Already scoring huge in 2009 with its infinitely enjoyable Roller Babies spot that currently has over 72 million views on YouTube, the French mineral water company followed it up this year with another toddler-inspired visual delight.

A group of random adults find themselves reflected in a shop window as babies and dance with their infant selves. Humorous, adorable, and upbeat, the ad’s CGI-enhanced street dancing posse makes a solid case for the universal appeal of dancing babies. Beating out The Epic Split, Baby & Me was the most watched ad in 2013.

Poo-Pourri: Girls Don't Poop 

Published on Sept 10, 2013

YouTube views: 21,510,354

Director: Joel Ackerman

Creators: Daniel and Jeffrey Harmon

Promoting a product that deals with messy stuff is definitely a challenge, which is why of all the ads that went viral in 2013, Poo-Pourri’s Girls Don’t Poop is one that rightly deserves its success. The idea is simplicity itself: put a redhead wearing a tulle skirt on a commode in four different locations – including a supposedly 300-cow farm – and have her deliver a sales pitch on why Poo-Pourri’s toilet deodorisers will change your life forever.

The clincher is that she’s selling it with a posh upper class British accent, which cleverly pokes fun at the fact that she’s talking about certain unspeakable scents. It could’ve gone so wrong but the audacity of the ad takes it a new level of toilet humour: over 21 million views and still counting.

Pepsi Max UK & Dynamo: Bus Levitation 

Published on June 24, 2013

YouTube views: 5,040,658

Director: Alex Hartman

Agency: Arnold KLP, Britain

Magic, love it or hate it, it will definitely make people look. As was the case for this eye-catching stunt with British illusionist Dynamo seemingly levitating alongside a Pepsi Max-branded London bus. Needless to say it got the crowd going wild as the magician travelled across Westminster Bridge recording their reactions. The campaign?

To get people to Live For Now and make their daily experiences as exciting as possible. Pepsi UK marketing director Sebastian Micozzi said: "For us, this stunt was a fantastic way to launch the partnership with Dynamo for Pepsi Max." Whether you like the ad or not, it’ll leave you wondering how Dynamo did it. Can you figure it out?

H&M: David Beckham Bodywear Spring 2013

Published on Feb 6, 2013

YouTube views: 10,305,247

Director: Guy Ritchie

Agency: Marc Atlan Design, US

Let’s face it. Underwear ads are hot. And if you throw in world-class hunk David Beckham, it’s guaranteed to scorch.

French-born American creative director Marc Atlan and his team created the perfect package for Beckham’s Bodywear line for H&M ad campaign including this short film directed by Guy Ritchie. The clip shows Beckham waving goodbye to his kids before the Range Rover drives off with his bathrobe, leaving him in nothing but a tank top and boxer briefs.

Beckham decides to give chase, running through Beverly Hills’ backyards and lanes like an obstacle course, and conveniently getting his tank ripped by a bush along the way. Funny, sexy and action-packed, Beckham definitely wears it well.

Audi America: The Challenge

Published on May 6, 2013

YouTube views: 8,229,519

Director: Paul W Downs and Lucia Aniello

Agency: PMK*BNC and Paulilu Productions, US

Everyone loves a good brand face-off and no one does it more blatantly than the Americans. Audi USA took a dig at the Mercedes CLS550 in a clever new-Spock versus old-Spock disguise in The Challenge.

The hilarious mini-movie begins with Zachary Quinto losing a game of online chess to Leonard Nimoy and proposes another challenge: a round of golf.

“Whoever gets to the club last, buys lunch,” he jabs.

Nimoy, driving the Mercedes, curses the car’s lack of boot space as he struggles to get the golf bag in. Meanwhile, Quinto, driving the Audi S7, wins with ample space and satellite navigation.  Launched just days before the Star Trek: Into Darkness May 16 release date, the ad is most definitely “fascinating” and has Trekkies hitting the repeat button.

GoPro: Fireman Saves Kitten

Published on Sept 25, 2013

YouTube views: 19,435,875

On June 15, Cory Kalanick uploaded a video of his kitty rescue from footage captured with a GoPro camera fitted on his helmet. That YouTube video, entitled The Rescue, showed how the Californian firefighter discovered the unconscious kitten in a smoke-filled house and revived it with an oxygen mask and wet towel.

The clip went viral, much to Kalanick’s surprise, garnering 1,674,295 views to date. Later on Sept 25, GoPro launched a re-edited version of Kalanick’s video as an ad for their HD Hero3 model, which became even more viral.

Although the kitty – named Lucky – died from lung damage on the night of Kalanick’s valiant rescue, the ad generated so much interest that efforts are now underway to fit fire-trucks with oxygen masks specially designed for pets.

Google India: Reunion

Published on Nov 13, 2013

YouTube views: 11,134,659

Director: Amit Sharma

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, India

Undeniably the most heart-warming ad of the year, this three-and-a-half-minute spot comes with claims that it “brings people to tears” and it’s no joke.

The ad begins in present-day Delhi with Baldev recounting his memories with his granddaughter Suman, telling her about his childhood best friend Yusuf and how they lost track of each other during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Using clues from her grandfather’s reminiscences, Suman goes on a Google search rampage and eventually makes contact with the long-lost Yusuf in his family sweet shop in Lahore. The rest of the ad then shows how Suman and Yusuf’s grandson Ali use Google search on their electronic devices to set up a reunion between the two elderly men.

The climax is truly emotional, and acts as a kind of metaphorical salve for real families who were genuinely affected by the Partition. But it doesn’t really matter where you’re from, this ad will move anyone with a heart. Get your tissues ready.

(Additional reporting: Lennard Gui)

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