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Bear with me here, this gets a bit complicated…

For years, the #1 YouTube video had been Jud Laipply’s The Evolution of Dance. It’s funny, pretty timeless as far internet phenomena go, and has a universal appeal. It also had about 92 million views as of this writing.

Multi-platinum Canadian pop-tart Avril Lavigne has just dethroned The Evolution of Dance with the music video to her single, “Girlfriend.” This is not all that surprising. “Girlfriend” has a hook approaching ABBA levels of catchy, the video is humorous, and Avril is a Hot-Topic-esque punk-but-pretty girl in a short skirt prancing about suggestively. (For what it’s worth, she’s risen far enough that Hot-Topic is now aping her style, not the other way around.)

This is YouTube fodder, if I’ve ever seen it, but that’s self defeating because “Girlfriend” is exactly that: fodder. How did this middling-concoction get 97,000,000+ views in the last two months? Is it really that clever? Is there ground being broken? Is it, in and of itself, phenomena? No, no, and no.

The video for “Girlfriend” is catchy, sexy and funny. (Edgy, too: she drops the f-bomb, but they’ve edited it out.) However, it’s still the same hook-and-beat ear candy that Gwen, Britney, Madonna and The Cast from High School Musical have been churning out for years. Enjoyable, but without staying power. So, whither all the views? Well, as you’ve no doubt surmised, there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye…

On June 19th, the Avril Lavigne fansite Avril Bandaids launched a “Girlfriend” YouTube Viewer (It’s now been retired) with the intention of making “Girlfriend” the #1 YouTube video of all time. The url that hosted the viewer reloaded the video every 15 seconds. The theory was that Avril fans could load up that url, let it run, and Avril would get the top video spot in no time.

Well, Entertainment Tonight, Perez Hilton, Wired.com, The Globe and Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, and many others picked up the story and started crying “foul.” How dare this hardcore group choose the number one YouTube video for us!? How dare they! And that’s where this story gets good.

There was no foul. YouTube caps it’s views per specific IP at 200 per day. (That may sound like a lot, but it’s not enough for a small legion of hardcore fans to make a dent in a number approacing 100,000,000.) There was no way they could game YouTube in the way they were purporting; and they knew it all along.

This is an excerpt from a letter addressed “Dear Media” that was posted on the Avril Bandaids forum. It’s titled The Two Steps I’ll Always Be Ahead Of You.

…But like a magician revealing the M.O. to a convincing trick, I have to admit that Bandaids’ YouTube Campaign was nothing but misdirection. Bandaiders didn’t cheat: the YouTube Viewer was a Hoax.

All along, I knew that YouTube capped the number of views added to a video at 200 per IP address per day. As such, the only way to make Girlfriend the most watched video on YouTube the fast way was to increase our reach, not our views per person. And the best way to do that was to use viral marketing to tap into traditional news sources. So our members went about inflating the count on the YouTube Viewer and spreading the link around the net.

In the mean time, the real end game of the campaign was unfolding nicely. As media outlets around the world began accusing Bandaids of cheating Avril’s way into the record books, they drove thousands upon thousands of curious folks to watch Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend video on YouTube (yes, even you Perez). This resulted in a much larger boost to Avril’s view count than Bandaids could ever have generated on its own.

Don’t believe me? When the Viewer launched on June 19th, Girlfriend had amassed 88.0 million views on its own merits. On June 24th when the viewer was retired, Girlfriend had 88.9 million views – an increase largely on pace with what Girlfriend had been steadily gaining in the past few months. At best, Bandaids’ YouTube Viewer added under 100,000 (legitimate, as per YouTube’s terms of service) views to Girlfriend’s total view count. The only thing we cheated was hundreds of reporters into doing our promo for us…

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Avril Lavigne Fansite Owner,

Sharifa xx

It was a genius gaming of the system. The foul-criers were perpetrators of that which they were condemning. Whether you like the song or the artist, you’ve got to admire the execution. Now that is viral marketing.

Oh, and this is not to mention the fact that now “Girlfriend” is being covered by bloggers like me, as well. Getting them a third dip out of the campaign from people who otherwise never would have seen the video. So, go over there and watch “Girlfriend.” You know you want to, and it’s not bad, it really isn’t. But then go watch The Evolution of Dance, as long as you’re there. You won’t be dissapointed. It was, after all, number one for a reason.

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