When speaking of viral marketing for brands and businesses, the two questions I hear most frequently are "how much do online videos or viral videos cost?" and "what are the steps involved?" Pricing can vary depending on quite a few factors and there really is no set standard so I'll start by going over the 4 key elements and back into the pricing.

A successful viral video is one that begs to be shared again and again. As opposed to traditional "paid media" buys like TV and radio where once you stop paying the spot stops playing, viral and social media marketing are often referred to as "earned media," in that content remains on the web for a long time, at no additional cost and continues to be shared even after the initial campaign push is over. Getting lots of views is easy but how accurately your video is focused to reach your target demographic, how far that video spreads and how well your message resonates depend on either careful planning or lots of luck. The latter does not typically test well with most CMOs.

Creating, producing and launching a successful branded video, web series or viral video involves more than thinking up a funny idea and grabbing a camera so the first thing I'll do is break down the overall steps and costs into 4 categories:

  1. Establishing Goals and Strategy
  2. Creative
  3. Production
  4. Viral Video Marketing & Seeding

The success of your campaign will depend on productively focusing on each of these categories.

Goals and Strategy

The most effective approach is to establish your goal(s) and define your strategy before developing the creative concepts. This will better ensure that you have clearly defined objectives in mind by the time you create, produce and launch your video campaign. This also helps marketing directors, brand managers, PR and social media directors and others responsible for the success of the video quantify their return on investment (ROI) at the end of the campaign when the results are measured against the goals.

First, establish the ultimate, end-game goals of the viral video and define the key strategic steps along the way, What do you want to happen as a result of the campaign and how will you get there?

  • Goals: What are the Campaign goals to be achieved including product and brand awareness, measurable engagement, overall product sentiment, sales, traffic?
  • Conversions: What is the post-view action you want viewers to take immediately after watching the video, for instance, share with a friend, visit the website, watch more videos, visit a Buy Now page, visit a store?
  • Integration: Is the video part of a larger campaign accompanied by PR or other marketing initiatives that could help spread your message? Work with other departments!
  • Marketing: Define your demographic, influencers, social media networks and target verticals (see Viral Video Marketing below)

The responsibility falls squarely upon the online video creative agency to ask the right questions of the in-house marketing team and help to determine the goals and viral video strategies to be employed to ensure a successful campaign.

Depending on your preparedness in this phase, the costs involved could be from a couple thousand to several thousand dollars. This phase may also be included as added value to the overall viral marketing process.

Ballpark = $2,500 - $7,500


A "content as entertainment" approach is often the most effective for viral marketing and focuses on creating videos that go light on the message and heavy on the entertainment value. In this way,  even as viewers fully realize there is a brand message they don't care because they are trading their time and attention for being entertained. Genres could include funny, unexpected, shocking, cute, guess if this is real, clever, informative or quirky but they will al have one thing in common in that they beg to be passed along.

If you work with a creative agency, fees and pricing strategies can vary and different models exist but for our purposes here let's lay out a range of anywhere from a couple of thousand to several thousand dollars depending on the scope of the project and the agency's fees and billing structure.

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Ballpark = $2,500 - $7,500


Viral video production quality and costs are largely driven by the creative and depend on many factors including:

Pre Production

  • Casting and talent (actor) fees, trained animals
  • Location scouting and stage or location fees, where will the video be shot?


  • The number of videos; are you shooting one video or a series? Often multiple videos shot within the same shoot day and budget yet will require more time in post production
  • Live-action vs animation; using live actors vs animation or both
  • The equipment required; does the creative dictate that the project can be shot on a small consumer camera outdoors or do you need a full crew with high-end cameras and lighting?
  • Live visual effects, makeup effects
  • Wardrobe, props and sets

Post Production

  • Editing
  • Computer graphics (CGI) and visual effects
  • Music composition, recording or licensing

Some viral videos can be produced for several thousand dollars while others approach broadcast commercial production ranges of over $100,000. The best thing to do is weigh your budget against your goals and arrive at a creative solution that is both effective and within your budget.

Ballpark = $20,000 - $30,000

Viral Video Marketing & Seeding:

Viral video marketing starts with identifying your primary demographic and pinpointing the ideal viewer you are trying to reach. These are the people most likely to buy your product or service and engage your brand online and in person. Your secondary demographic should include tangential influencers, that group of viewers that are most likely to interact with and influence your primary demographic on different levels of interest.

Next, identifying relevant blogs, bloggers, websites, writers and social network influencers within certain verticals where you want your video "seeded." By creating lists of bloggers, publication writers and key influencers across social networking sites that have contact with and influence your target. Elements of a successful viral video marketing campaign include:

  • Messaging: Digital messaging for outreach to blogs and publications
  • Social Networking: Target communities and influencers on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter
  • Sharing: an emphasis on making sharing easy and including instructions for sharing with friends
  • Outreach: to reach hundreds of top blogs and publications to encourage them to talk about and embed the video(s)
  • Going where the party is: by developing relationships (if they don't already exist) with key influencers already engaged with your target demographic and establishing a presence in that space
  • Video Search Optimization (VSEO): including video titles, tags, descriptions and narrative back-story
  • Reporting and analysis: weekly and monthly to help determine ROI and make course corrections mid campaign

Viral video marketing and video seeding can cost anywhere from several cents per view to well over 25 cents per view. At first glance, this may seem expensive until you consider the way viral marketing works. For each properly targeted paid view, there will be additional views, online conversation, blog embeds, article mentions, social networking pass-along and valuable engagement that add to the value of that view. As the video spreads, you build buzz around the video, the product or service and your brand. By executing the appropriate viral video marketing strategy, your video will far exceed the guaranteed number of views serving to lower the total cost per view. For example, if you are shooting for 500,000 guaranteed views for .20 per view, once that video hits 1,00,000 views you have cut the cost per view to .10 per view.

Ballpark = $50,000 / 250,000 views

The objective of viral video marketing is not to pay for every single view but rather to pay enough to get your video to enough influencers and people who care that the video takes on a life of its own and the views begin to pour in organically.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639529202 Allison Tan Meiyan

    Hi, what currency are the estimates in? Thanks!

  • Marc Smith

    I saw recently a video with about 56,000 hits.

    They don't have many back links, friends or subscribers. How is this possible? I've tried to make my videos popular. Try to make the content funny but to new avail. I'm not looking for millions, just something like the plasma video. Also. Thanks to David for this article. Hopefully it will help with my videos :)

  • http://mattkoval.com/ Matt Koval

    Save some money and hire a few really popular YouTube personalities. Some are just kids, but others are very creative and capable filmmakers. I happen to know one if you're interested... ;)

    • https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

      Matt, as long as they hit your demographic that's a way to go too. PS - nice work on YouTube... ;)

    • Rick Potter

      I made the video "There's a horse in that car video" It cost nothing to make, just in the right place at the right time. Always carry your camera (Nikon p50) with you and extra batteries. Shoot everything and make sure your wife and kids know how to operate the camera. The horse video was not edited in any way. It was uploaded to Youtube straight from my camera on Saturday night November 6th and emailed too my mom and 3 friends. No one else, it just took off, I was very lucky. Rick Potter

  • Daniel Solden

    David makes some very good points. "Viral" is not a magical buzz word. It's a result of producing highly effective content and targeted marketing. This is bound to produce results. The only issue is to what extent- that is and will always remain a question for the Gods, the German octopus, and internet video commentators! In reality no one knows exactly how well an audience will respond to a campaign- but highly experienced professionals should certainly increase the likelihood of a powerful response.

    In terms of resources running an internet video marketing campaign is on the pricey side. It can however be an extremely valuable marketing medium.

    Youtube charges advertisers £0.25-£2.00/ view to promote their videos, we charge £0-0.10/ view, and high quality seeding companies charge anywhere from £0-0.04/ view (this can vary though!)

    In my view: Internet video marketing is 90% branding and only 10% direct response- which favours the big brands as opposed to small-medium sized businesses. This is not to say small-medium sized businesses should not compete, after all Youtube is egalitarian- just ask Blendtec & Justin Bieber!

  • Koifoa

    Nice information that provides a handy template for those approaching clients with an online marketing plan. i agee with Paul and Dancebadly...The first thing I tell my clients if someone tells them that they want to shoot a "viral" video for them is to run. No one can predict or guarantee a video will be viewed. This term gets thrown around so easily that it has lost its meaning. I understand that it is a hope that a video will go viral -

    • https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

      Koifoa, yes, if an agency tells you they have this great idea and they're going to put it on YouTube and it's going to go viral and be awesome then maybe run. If they lay out goals and a strategy that can achieve a predetermined result then viral marketing is just another way of getting info out there.

  • Dancebadly

    Awesome article with useful information and a wonderful template for newbies to structure a presentation to a client. The only complaint is the positioning of a video as "viral"...If someone tells you that they're going to shoot a "viral" video, most experienced marketers will roll their eyes knowing that no one can predict which video will go "viral". Other than that small detail, loved the information presented here.

    • https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

      Thanks Dancebadly and sorry about your dancing skills. My point is that you can predict which videos will go viral if you define "viral" as a means of hitting a set goal and a way of achieving that goal. The truth is that many experienced marketers are beginning to realize the amount of horsepower behind the larger branded campaigns on YouTube and coming to terms with the idea that their successes are not by accident.

  • askmrvideo

    Great article David! Can you share what ballpark budget the hatefiring videos were in and what the cost per view on those came out at? http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hatefiring&aq=0 Was that $50,000 per video or $50k for the whole series?

    • https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

      I just noticed I never answered your question! We promoted Hatefiring as a series of videos, heavily promoting the first and then rolling the following videos out in succession while building conversation.

      • askmrvideo

        Thanks David, so that was $50,000 for the series then.
        Good to know. Nice work.

  • Daniel Solden

    David: I don't agree with your production costs. Some of the best viral videos being produced are done in a "homemade style" which by definition can't be overly polished. See Hi-tech's running on water video. Although i accept sometimes it can cost a lot of money to produce some extra-special effects eg trained animals! But if you're charging $45k for an internet video you've probably lost sight of what internet video is about!

    Chip gets it! This is brilliant- just what internet video audiences want. No fancy effects but authenticity, and a genuine selling point. Congratulations and good luck!

    Benjamin: Madoff and Govts give guarantees. Internet video suppliers give commercial realities! We're a great place to spend money to get a great return. We'll do our best to make it work, our biggest problem is clients not listening to us! :)

    • Paul

      the costs seem really high. I was just reading an article by someone saying no-one can buy a viral video, there is no guarantee of a viral hit, the people of the web will dictate this.

      • Jules

        @chip can you give a link to a fishing video would be great to see it and add some extra views!

      • https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

        Good point Paul and there is no guarantee of a viral hit if you are leaving everything to chance and hoping for the best but from a marketing perspective, there is a guarantee that the video will hit whatever goals were set to justify ROI. "Viral" in this case, is simply a means of spreading a message in a well-planned way.

    • https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

      Daniel, I think that the homemade style is appropriate for a lot of projects and can be very cost effective but even the homemade style isn't always low cost. Hi Tech's "Walk on water (Liquid Mountaineering)" which you mentioned probably has a lot more involved in the production than you think. The video was done by the agency CCCP, Amsterdam so you have to factor in research and creative fees plus actor/athlete rates and I'm sure there was a healthy viral marketing budget to help get the video launched. Then the seeding strategy and excellent creative did the rest.

  • http://www.webdesignvista.com/ benjamin

    Clients are usually apprehensive about mehthods where positive ROI is doubtful. For example, can you guarantee that a video created as a viral marketing tool will serve its purpose (that is, go viral) and bring in the expected returns in terms of links and traffic?

    • https://mobile.twitter.com/DavidMurdico David Murdico

      I agree Benjamin, ROI is the number one concern clients have right now. I think the key is to establish the expected return first and then design the viral marketing so that it does bring in the expected returns. For instance, if site traffic is the goal and you know that X% of video views will click through to the website then you can determine how many views you need and develop a strategy for making that happen.

      • Arunmarsh

        "you can determine how many views you need and develop a strategy for making that happen"

        Great article and just what i've been looking for!

        re: the above quote I'm after specific examples of how XYZ action can generate ZYX amount of views.

        I know about blogger outreach, VSEO and community management, but I have people saying how do we guarantee 100,000 or 200,000 views is it possible to answer that?

  • Marie-Claire Ross

    Good to hear someone quoting high prices for a viral video. As an Australian video production house, who uses broadcast video equipment and spends a lot of time on the creative, get kind of sick of potential clients saying your too expensive. Not according to these figures! You get what you pay for.

  • Chip Mayhugh

    My client is a fishing captain. I used Youtube to market him to people that want to catch the kind of fish he catches. So we just kept uploading edited highlight videos like he was already a big pro. We never talked about trips or pitched fishing trips. Kids found the videos and passed them around like "hey who is this guy?" 1,000,000 Youtube views later, he is booked solid for the next 2 years.

    • triciateschke

      Those videos work well and are definitely the right approach for that client. I'd go fishing with him.

  • Paul

    or shoot a video of your cat skateboarding wearing your brand on a tshirt shot on $100 flip camera