There is no doubt that 2011 has been an epic year for social video. Looking through the top 20 most shared ads of the last 12 months you cannot help but be struck by the sheer size, scale and spectacle of some of the campaigns. Budgets were bigger, as more brands harnessed the power of social video to amplify their brand and to make an emotional connection with their audience.

Ambitions were also bigger. Looking through the top 20, you cannot help but be amazed at the kind of production values that would make even a Hollywood producer blush.

Great scriptwriting, fantastic direction, rousing soundtracks – 2011 really did see social video become the small screen format with big screen ambitions.

But, more importantly, brands started to see the bigger picture.

And they don't come any bigger than Volkswagen's monster hit, The Force, created by LA agency Deutsch.

Released just a few days before the Super Bowl, the ad, starring a mini Darth Vader and Jon Williams's brilliant soundtrack, The Imperial March, took just six days to overtake Evian's Roller Babies to become the most shared of all time.

And it is still racking up the shares, attracting 4.7 million shares (and counting) – almost 2.7.million more than runner-up DC Shoes during 2011.

But The Force was a one-off – a monumental success that will be difficult for VW to come anywhere near to replicating in 2012.

Looking further down the chart, however, and you see some familiar names. T-Mobile and DC Shoes, of course, have been regulars on the Global Ads Chart's top 20 over the last few years.

And this year was no different. T-Mobile's latest chapters in the incredibly successful Life's For Sharing campaign – a real-life version of the incredibly popular game Angry Birds and their all-singing and dancing spoof of the Royal Wedding - were the third and fourth respectively.

However, they were pipped once again by the fourth instalment in Ken Block's hugely popular Gymkhana campaign, the Hollywood Megamercial. By far the most ambitious video since the series began back in 2008, Gym 4 has attracted well over 2million shares since it was released in August. Not bad for an advert that is almost 10 minutes long.

But T-Mobile and DC Shoes were not the only ones to benefit from releasing new chapters to already successful campaigns. Kia was another brand to scale up its ambitions in 2011, releasing a grander, computer-generated update of its brilliant 2010 hit Soul Hamsters.

It certainly paid off, with Party Rock Anthem's dancing hamsters attracting a mammoth 1.42 million shares (almost one million more than its 2010 predecessor) – making it the fifth most shared ad of 2011.

Sticking with tried-and-trusted campaigns rather than releasing something completely new certainly makes sense in these uncertain, turbulent economic times, but it could also be a sign that more and more brands are realising that the long idea can be as big as the big idea, especially for advertisers looking to build a long-term relationship with their audiences.

But 2011 was not all about big brands and even bigger budgets. In fact, thanks to a little help from meme machines, The Commercial Kings, one Californian taxidermist proved this year that even small brands with shoestring budgets can create outstanding social video content.

Nope, Chuck Testa did not quite make the top 10 (it finished unlucky 13th), but few would argue it is not the funniest ad of 2011, proving once again the value of a great content idea.

Not that good old Chuck has much competition in the comedy stakes this year. Looking back at last year's top 20 and three quarters of the ads included used humour as a key sharing trigger.

In 2011, it was less than a half, with awesome skills sharing more of the limelight thanks to eye-popping ads from Red Bull, Channel 4, DC Shoes, Samsung, Pepsi and Trace Urban.

There is the odd chuckle, of course, provided by The Force, Marcel's brilliant ad for Contrex mineral water and a bizarre Brazilian ad for Nissan.

But, all in all, this year saw a far greater range of content triggers, from Evidently's incredibly moving ad Dear 16-Year-Old Me for The David Cornfield Melanoma Fund to Carlsberg's brilliant cinema stunt, created by Brussels-based ad agency Duval Guillaume Modem.

The Top 20 Online Video Ads of 2011 by Shares

The full ranking* is as follows:

  1. Volkswagen: The Force: Volkswagen Commercial  - 4,713,179 shares
  2. DC Shoes: Ken Block's Gymkhana Four; The Hollywood Megamercial - 2,028,238 shares
  3. T-Mobile: Angry Birds Live - 1,783,607 shares
  4. T-Mobile: Royal Wedding - 1,733,419 shares
  5. Kia: Party Rock Anthem-Kia Soul Hamster Commercial - 1,424,110 shares
  6. 20th Century Fox: Ape With A20K-47 - 1,132,201 shares
  7. David Cornfield Melanoma Fund: Dear 16-Year-Old Me - 1,072,004 shares
  8. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Reveal Trailer - 1,062,829 shares
  9. Nissan: Poneis Malditos - 956,661 shares
  10. Nestle: Contrex - Ma Contrexperience -97s - 950,988 shares
  11. Official Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - The Vet Vs The Noob - 922,218 shares
  12. Carlsberg Stunt with Bikers in Cinema - 899,550 shares
  13. Official Ojai Valley Taxidermy TV Commercial - 830,036 shares
  14. Red Bull: The Art of FLIGHT - Snowboarding film trailer featuring Travis Rice - 810,453 shares
  15. McDonald's Philippines New Commercial 2011 "BFGF"  - 756,141 shares
  16. Channel 4: Danny MacAskill - Industrial Revolutions - 696,190 shares
  17. Trace Urban: The most amazing beat box video ever! - 687,528 shares
  18. Pepsi: Unbelievable David Beckham - 543,812 shares
  19. Samsung: Unleash Your Fingers - 542,851 shares
  20. Westfield Stratford City: 100 YEARS / STYLE / EAST LONDON - 529,832 shares

* Ranking is based on data collected through November 21, 2011