Viral Video Success: A Case Study

The Rise of Gotye

I think everyone by now as heard of Gotye and his hit “Somebody that I Use to know”. If you haven’t, where have you been?!?! It’s been all over Twitter, Facebook, Mashable and Youtube. Because of all the attention that this song got Gotye has broken into the American Music scene, which very few foreign musicians can (do he’s Belgium-Australian).  Hell, even my Boxee has suggested that I watch his music videos. When his name flashed up on my scene this morning I felt that I should cover his rise to fame in a case study, even though this is the tail end of it. I first heard Somebody That I Use to Know when a developer friend sent me a link to an “amazing video”. I don’t always open links to amazing videos when they are sent to me because it usually isn’t worth my time. I’m either getting Rick Rolled, watching bizzarre suppose-to-be-funny clips or I’m just not impressed and have to lie to about how I awesome I thought it was. I didn’t open it because I just didn’t want to. A couple of days later the same friend sent me the same link, telling me to watch it this time  “you gotta see it”. The link took me to a youtube page a five people playing the same guitar and singing acoustically.  I was blown away not just by their ability to sing but by the ability for all of them to play the same instrument so well.

I watched it again and told my friend that it was awesome and I appreciated the link. I read some video comments, and I noticed the title of video said it was a ‘Gotye Cover’ but didn’t pay any more attention to the credits beyond that.  I shared it on Facebook and Twitter talking about how awesome these guys were. By the end of the end of the week most of my close friends have commented on the video or shared it themselves. Comments were about the talent of the band, not the song. This 5 man band had a great way of getting attention and no one including myself seemed interested in the original artist at that time but the song grew on me. These People were awesome and the cover song was just a means of displaying talent. A month later I still liked the cover so I would regularly go to Youtube and watch/listen to the video. I looked over and Gotye’s original version was one of the related videos on the left hand side.

Gotye viral Video


I clicked on it. This is a damn good song. The Cover version grabbed me because of it’s novelty but once the novelty wore off I realized that I really liked the song. When I listened to the original version I became a fan of the song and of the artist who made it.

I shared this version on Facebook and created a Pandora station around him. Months and months go down and people are still sharing and commenting on Gotye’s Somebody that I use to Know video, not the Cover. Mashable, the biggest Social Media news site, covers Gotye’s success and subsequent articles about parody videos (an Obama parody below).


This is no longer about the 5 man band, this is about Gotye and his song. Some people may think parody videos aren’t good for the artist but remember these other videos are still keeping the artist fresh in our minds. It’s free publicity for Gotye and all these extra videos continue to spread his fame long after we are tired of the the original. I turn on the radio in my car, which I rarely do, and I hear a club edit version of Somebody That I Use to Know. I’m shocked. It’s rare that mainstream media embraces web hits but since so many people love this song the radio had to keep up with the Internet or lose all it’s clout. For several weeks now I hear Gotye on the radio, in bars, in clubs or blasting out someone else’s headphones. I am getting tired of this song but I still listen to his station on Pandora, because his other songs are pretty good. One day I turn on Boxee and the home screen suggests that I watch a a new Gotye song, ‘State of the Art” intrigued I play the video and unsurprisingly I like this song and I think to myself that if it’s being suggested on my home screen that this new video must have gotten a lot of views. It check it and it does.


A couple weeks later Mashable covers a new Gotye single, but when I read the article it was about a different song! In a few months I heard 3 different songs from this artist who would never have crossed my path if it wasn’t for the web. And even though Somebody That I Use to Know gets played to the point of irritation parodies and covers are still coming out whether it’s talking about how great the song is or annoying the song is.

Finally this morning, around eight months after 5 man band cover was made I saw another video suggestion on my Boxee homescreen. It was for a mashup of all the covers that were made of this viral hit with a link to Gotye’s official site, more promotion for the artist.

Even thought I’ve chronicled my personal experiences with this viral phenomenon here are some key things we all can learn from studying the success of this video.

Gotye Wouldn’t have Become Viral Without the First Cover

This doesn’t mean that the Gotye isn’t talented or his song wasn’t good. But that’s all that it had. In order for video to go viral it has to be incredible. Incredibly hilarious, incredibly inspiring or incredibly shocking for it to spread like wildfire. The original song didn’t have what it took to get that kind of attention but the 5 man band cover did. After the amazement from this band went away only then to people start to Google who the original artist was and we appreciated him for his talent.

Traditional Media Seals the deal in Viral Success.

Radio and TV are very slow to pick up on web success and a campaign can live and die on the web without ever getting touched by mainstream outlets. Having a million plays on youtube is great for publicity but it doesn’t necessarily equate monetary success. Radio stations pay artist for each play a song gets so when the song finally got picked up on Radios they played the original and remixes allowing a melancholy song to reach an audience that would never find it, paying Gotye every time they played it. The sneezing Panda got plenty of views on Youtube too, but Gotye made money from his hit because of Radio.

Most Viral Songs Come from the Talentless, This is the Exception.

Think of every dumb viral song that you’ve ever heard; now think about why they became so popular. Chances are they became popular because they were really funny. Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ is a song written by a 15 year who sings and writes … like a 15 year old. The song is funny because it’s simple. It’s so bad it’s good. Another mega hit ‘Bedtime Intruder’ is an angry rant about attempted rape that was put to music. It became a hit because we couldn’t help but laugh at the mannerisms of the speaker and the melody was pretty damn catchy. Think about Chocolate Rain and any other viral song! These people aren’t blowing us away with skills; we like these songs because they make us laugh. “Somebody That I Use to Know” is different, we like this song because it’s really good. Gotye has a legitimate career as a singer and he became world famous because he became web famous.

Viral Success is Impossible to Repeat.

This isn’t just for Gotye but for most viral videos. His other songs are good but they won’t get the same amount of attention on the web because they are just good songs. There will be no naked presidential impersonators for “State of the Art” so it will have the same power of a regular music video online. Fans will share it, some will buy his album and he’ll still have success stemming from his original hit but I’m willing to bet that he won’t receive the amount of attention he got before he’s not a viral video maker, he’s an artist who got a lucky break.

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