The 20 Most-Viral Ads of 2012

A 30-minute nonprofit video outlasts Google, Coke, VW and Nike to take the top spot

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A controversial 30-minute video by a little known nonprofit far outpaced efforts from multinational marketers like Google, Coca-Cola, Volkswagen and Nike to take the top spot on Unruly Media's list of the 20 most-shared ads of 2012 in social media.

The short film, titled "Kony 2012," released in March by Invisible Children Inc., part of U.S. filmmaker Jason Russell's crusade to rally opposition to rebel Ugandan strongman Joseph Kony, was shared a staggering 10 million times, according to Unruly's data—more than twice the number of the second spot on the list, TNT's "A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square." The Kony video was also the target of significant backlash from critics who said it was oversimplified and misleading.

The TNT video, in which the cable network surprised people in a Belgian town square who pushed a red button with chaotic, choreographed scenes ripped from medical and legal dramas, was shared 4.3 million times. (Kony has been viewed 94 million times, all on YouTube; the TNT clip has 42 million views, including 39 million on YouTube.)

Rounding out the top five on the list are Abercrombie & Fitch's "Call Me Maybe" parody at No. 3; Ken Block's Gymkhana 5 video for DC Shoes at No. 4; and Procter & Gamble's Olympic salute to moms, "Best Job," at No. 5. ("Best Job" was the only one of the 20 spots that also made Adweek's list of the year's 10 best commercials.)

Melbourne Metro's "Dumb Ways to Die" spot, released just a couple of weeks ago, was No. 7, just ahead of Chevrolet's "Needing/Getting" video with OK Go at No. 8, and Volkswagen's "The Bark Side" Super Bowl teaser at No. 9.

Google's Project Glass video ended up at No. 11. Coke's "You Have 70 Seconds" stunt, a Coke Zero tie-in with the new James Bond movie, finished at No. 13.

Nike and PBS each have two spots in this year's top 20—Nike at Nos. 14 and 15, PBS at Nos. 10 and 16.

Only three marketers that made last year's top 20 returned this year: Volkswagen, which took the top spot in 2011 with "The Force"; DC Shoes, which was No. 2 last year for Gymkhana 4; and Red Bull, which was No. 14 last year for its Travis Rice snowboarding film trailer and is No. 17 this year for Red Bull Kluge.

The number of total video shares continues to climb year to year. Unruly's top 500 ads of 2012 earned 113 million shares in 2012, a 21 percent increase over 2011. The top 10 ads of 2012 were shared 28 million times, an increase of 67 percent on 2011.

"Emotive content and bottom-up sharing stole the show this year," says Unruly co-founder and COO Sarah Wood. "The world's biggest brands can learn from Invisible Children. It's not about a 30-second commercial anymore when a 30-minute video gets 10 million global shares."

To be eligible for the list, ads must have launched in 2012. The list, released Monday, does not include movie trailers or traditional TV promos. Share counts are through Nov. 21.

See the complete top 20 at this link:

Gallery: Unruly Media's 20 Most-Shared Ads of 2012

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.