Nike, Pepsi and Volkswagen, three global marketers that are old pros at creating blockbuster video content, produced the three most-watched commercials on YouTube this year, according to the video site's 2012 Ads Leaderboard—a list of top branded spots with at least as many organic views as paid views throughout the year.
Nike Football led the way with "My Time Is Now," and it certainly was the right time for the flashy, interactive Euro 2012 clip from Wieden + Kennedy, which has received almost 21 million views since its May release.
Pepsi MAX's five-minute "Uncle Drew" spot from The Marketing Arm, starring Kyrie Irving, was second with 18 million views, edging out Volkswagen's "The Bark Side" Super Bowl teaser from Deutsch/LA.
Automakers did very well overall, accounting for eight of the top 20 spots (nine if you count Hot Wheels) and six of the top 11.
The car ads were almost all Super Bowl spots—Honda (No. 5), VW (No. 6, separate from the teaser), Chrysler (No. 8), Audi (No. 10), Chevrolet (No. 11) and Toyota (No. 16)—showing how the big game can significantly goose online ad views. (Fiat's "House Arrest" with Charlie Sheen, at No. 18, was the only auto spot not tied to the Super Bowl.)
Nike added a second spot in the top 10—its entertaining showdown between Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal finished at No. 9. Rounding out the top 10: Samsung's latest swat at Apple fanboys was No. 4; and GoPro's long-form video for its Hero3 camera was No. 7.
The top 20 spots feature a wide range of styles and themes—from comedies to dramas to mini documentaries and music videos—in varying lengths, from just 15 seconds up to five minutes. Also remarkable is the staying power of many of these spots, which continue to rack up impressive daily views many months after their release.
While it didn't crack the top 10, Old Spice continued its strong showing in viral video, placing four spots from Wieden + Kennedy in the top 20—the most of any marketer. Asked how the Procter & Gamble brand keeps its output so consistently compelling, client brand manager Jason Partin said it's about building on a legacy while tweaking the formula to keep it fresh. "We never lose sight of the guys that use Old Spice," Partin said. "They've come to love the brand and expect a certain level of entertainment from us, so we work hard to deliver on that."
W+K creative directors Jason Bagley and Craig Allen said the litmus test is simple. "We try to make ourselves laugh first and foremost, and hope that at least 12 other people think it's funny," they said in an email to Adweek. "So far that's worked."
They added: "We just try to come up with ideas that will make our producers want to kill us and threaten to quit every day. That's how we know we're on the right track. Also, we have a time machine that takes us into the future and tells us what will be successful. Some call it cheating. We call it 'not cheating.' "
Click below to see all 20 spots. And check back in 2013, when Adweek will be showcasing a monthly YouTube Ads Leaderboard highlighting each month's most successful spots.