Top 5 Online Video Trends of 2013

It’s been a good year for online video.

Vine and Instagram Video hit the scene, sparking the trend of social microvideos.

Facebook rolled out video autoplay for mobile and desktop.

And YouTube revealed that its one billion unique monthly users watch more than 6 billion hours of content every month.

That’s a lot of numbers. And those numbers have a lot of power—especially in deciding what kind of videos do well online.

It’s hard to say exactly what makes videos succeed online—does anyone really know how “What Does the Fox Say” got 279 million views? But we have seen a few trends come out of the most popular videos of 2013. Which ones are most likely to stick around?

Cute Kids

One common factor in some of the most popular video ads of 2013? Adorable, precocious kids.  It could be the “aww” factor. It could be the hilarious quips. But whatever it is, kids of all ages have been a proven element of success for several brands this year including Evian, AT&T and Verizon.

Evian scored a huge YouTube win this year with its “Baby and Me” video, a bizarre-yet-captivating display of people dancing with their toddler doppelgängers.

Competing telcos AT&T and Verizon went a more conventional route, giving us charming children to laugh at and root for. AT&T featured classrooms of kindergartners in its “It’s Not Complicated” series, and Verizon Internet gave us “FiOS Football Girl,” a spunky kid who taught the neighborhood boys a lesson.

The lesson? Kids—whether they’re popping and locking or playing football—work.

Celebrity Cameos

A wide range of celebrities, from NASCAR drivers to famous actors, made appearances in video ads this year. What’s not to love? Celebrity endorsements are great for boosting sales and it’s always entertaining to see our favorite stars outside their element.

The only difference this year? The most popular video ads show celebrities in their element, even sometimes in character. Take “Epic Split,” the much buzzed-about ad for Volvo Trucks that showed a typically stoic Jean-Claude Van Damme performing a typically incredible physical feat. And in a series of ads for the 2014 Dodge Durango, actor/comedian Will Ferrell reprises his popular role as brash, offensive newscaster Ron Burgundy.

What makes these videos work? They’re entertaining. Putting favorite celebrities in recognizable roles captures—and keeps—viewer attention.

Ads That Make You Feel

Whether they were nostalgic, heartwarming or heartbreaking, ads that made viewers feel something were among the top videos of 2013.

Some of the best? There was “Real Beauty Sketches,” a positive message of self-acceptance that resonated with women  and won Dove more than 60 million YouTube views. There were the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, who appeared in a tearjerking Super Bowl spot about the bond between a trainer and his horse.

And then, there was one of the most popular ads of the year—Ram Trucks’ “Farmer,” which featured late broadcaster Paul Harvey’s tribute to farmers. It generated sentimental memories of days gone by while collecting more than 16 million views.

The trend here? Ads don’t always have to have the most entertainment or the biggest stars. Sometimes, it’s better just to evoke simple emotions.

Silly Humor

Yeah, yeah, feelings are nice and all. But something else that created popular video ads this year? Silly, immature, even stupid humor.

Big-box retailer Kmart had long been lagging behind Target and even Walmart in public image. But the brand began to turn its image around this year with a series of stupidly funny video ads. The verging-on-profane pun in “Ship My Pants” made more than 20 million viewers laugh, as did the risqué male models in Kmart’s rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

Another brand that won with silly humor is Geico, who’s “Hump Day” commercial starred everyone’s favorite (or was it least favorite?) camel. Either way, the video was social media gold. It received millions of shares and spawned tons of remixes and parodies.

This one’s easy—sometimes all you need for a great online video is one dumb joke.

Mobile Optimization

The last trend is a little harder to spot, but it’s just as important—and it’s only going to get bigger going into 2014. The best videos of 2013 are optimized for mobile devices.

Mobile device use is growing fast, and more and more people are using mobile devices to watch videos. Appropriately, advertisers are starting to take note, in fact, mobile advertising has grown 75% this year. But great mobile videos can be a tough nut to crack. What does it take to make a video that’s as successful on mobile devices as it is on TVs and desktops?

In a word? Simplicity. Mobile devices have smaller screens and mobile viewers often have shorter attention spans. The best mobile videos are simple and to-the-point, like Google’s ads for its new Nexus 7 tablets. The Nexus 7 ads are short, most no longer than 30 seconds. They’re easy to follow, entertaining and relatable. And they’re capable of capturing viewers’ attention, no matter what else they’re doing.

Expect these trends to stick around into 2014 as the popularity of online videos grows. What else did you see in the most popular videos of 2013?


Michelle Smith is a freelance writer with a focus on social media and marketing. She can be found typing away on her laptop in sunny Boca Raton, Florida. Michelle welcomes your feedback at

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