Viral Marketing Examples: The Piano Guys Case Study

I’m always looking for unbelievable viral marketing examples, and recently came upon what ThePianoGuys are doing with their CelloWars video. You’re going to love it.

There is an enormous difference between viral video examples and viral marketing examples. Tons of videos go viral, most of them that have done so weren’t because they were planned that way.  And 99% of them are just a flash in the pan with no way to turn that audience into future fans.

In this viral marketing example you’re going to see how ThePianoGuys are using their videos to create fans, generate revenue, grow their list and become pop icons. You don’t see this kind of thing everyday.

They start with YouTube, but these guys aren’t using a Flip Camera in their car on the way to work. Their videos are stunning, done with impeccable editing and amazing musicians. They are so well done, you want to share them. But again – that’s not viral marketing. Great editing, amazing music and stunning video by themselves are a hallmark of great movies like Shindler’s List, K2 and Empire of the Sun but that doesn’t make them instant viral marketing examples.

YouTube Search Optimization

The title of their video is a beautiful combination of 4 key keywords. Any one of their four main keywords (Cello Wars, Star Wars Parody, Lightsaber Duel, and Steven Sharp Nelson) will drive traffic that has an immediate interest in the video. That’s 4 constant sources of organic traffic.

ThePianoGuys also include as much text as is allowed in the description box. But their text is not only well written but quite strategic in its copywriting. From a keyword perspective they use terms like Cello and George Lucas, words that typically describe and support the main title keywords giving the video even more relevance for those keywords.

Adding to that and below the video they include links. These links actually contribute to the video rising in the organic YouTube search rankings. YouTube values links to social sites, other videos, the subscribe button and places to find more information. While these links often have you leaving their site, YouTube really, really values the “social side” of the internet and rewards you for helping to create that social media experience.

Making the Video Go Viral

The main thread behind viral videos has been community. The Dairy Queen Shaving Bunnies commercial is funny to me, but I’m only going to forward that to people who I think will also find it amusing. My mother is probably not one of those people. If one of these “ideological communities” identifies with your video – they’ll become your marketing partners as they quickly share the video across the web.

In this Cello Wars video, there are many ‘communities’ who will identify with the content including Star Wars enthusiasts, lightsaber fans, green screen technology users, cellists, Chewbacca and Darth Vader fans, Jedi wannabees, orchestra leaders, cello teachers, sci-fi fanatics, George Lucas followers, sounds effects guys, music aficionados and maybe even the John Williams Fan Club (if there is one). Anytime your video involves more than just you in your bedroom talking, you’ve got an opportunity to appeal to many groups. And look at the thumbnail image they created for the video, how enticing:

To increase the number of individual people who are promoting it, the video’s description lists all the people who contributed to the making of the video. In this case they mention 17 people and organizations who are likely to promote the video just because they’re mentioned in it. Even the tiny reference to the Sony F3 is likely to get Sony’s attention, appreciation and promotion.

“Hey mom, check out this video ThePianoGuys mentioned me in!”

Increasing their Fan Base

Just because you’ve seen it doesn’t mean you’re automatically a fan, in fact without seeing it more than once most people would likely forget the name ThePianoGuys. Prior to the influx of iTunes and .mp3 players, hit songs were made by radio stations who played songs over and over and over again. Today that frequency requires getting the song on the playlists of thousands of music lovers.

If your marketing plan stops at people listening to your song once, you’re really relying on hope. And you know what we say about that: Hope is Not a Marketing Plan

So to get on people’s playlists, they’re actually giving away the .mp3 for free. And they’re not even relying on you to see the little link below the video, they use YouTube’s onscreen “annotations” so you see it while you’re watching the video. Once the song is in your iTunes playlist rotation, they will have a chance to be heard over and over again – turning one-time viewers into fans. And with people sharing their playlists on Facebook and via Spotify – even more people will be introduced to the music.

Giving the song download to you free is another way to increase the chances the song will become a viral hit. Websites that promote free things and deals will list it for their fans; I even found a Star Wars related site that is pushing their audience to the free download. With all this well crafted exposure, going viral is almost inevitable.

Additional annotations in the video request that you subscribe to their YouTube Channel which means you’re more likely to see their next video when you log into YouTube, and more likely to see this video again. That repetition is the key to turning viewers into fans. And they don’t stop at advertising the free download, they also include a link to their Facebook page and one to their static website. This social promotion is common to all viral marketing examples.

Finally, after the song is over and before the video is done, Steven Sharp Nelson and Al van der Beek, the stars of the video, come on screen and ask that you do all these things. Looking straight at the camera – they simply ask you to become fans.

Forcing Your Fans to Promote You

The .mp3 download link below the video takes you to a squeeze page. A “squeeze page” is any webpage that squeezes something out of you in exchange for something of value. In most cases a page like this asks for your name and email address in exchange for a free report, for example. In this case to get the free music download, you’re required to share the video with your audience on one of your other social media sites.

The YouTube button on the page gives you the option to subscribe to their channel (instead of sharing it). While that doesn’t make it go viral by itself, it does help to make ThePianoGuys a more visible part of your YouTube experience. The Facebook and Twitter icons, which expose the video to thousands and thousands more people, connect with your accounts and offer a pre-written “status update” for you to just press ‘send’ and move on downloading the .mp3.

Revenue is the Ultimate Goal

After you share the video with your social media audience, you get to go to their download page, which is also brilliantly put together. Normally, I would say they made a mistake at the squeeze page when they didn’t ask for your contact information, but in this case they have an opportunity to get that information one more time before losing your attention.

The song download is located atop their ‘donate to help us make music’ page.  It features a great piece on who ThePianoGuys are , what they’re trying to do and why they’re asking for donations. Then along the right hand column, they feature 14 different ways to donate money starting at $10 and ending at $1,000,000.

Unfortunately, they still don’t capture your contact information if you choose just to download the song. Without that they reduce the ability to make the next video go viral. I suppose they’ve exchanged the opportunity to email you with the chance to make their work spread even further. I’ve yet to receive a direct message from them via Twitter – but if they captured my Twitter account name, that’s still a possibility. And now that I’m subscribed to their channel and will see all their new videos as they come out – they’ll have other opportunities for sure.


In any case, the entire campaign is well crafted.  Can you think of anything that would have made this a better campaign? Perhaps a better way to increase the number of fans they get from this strategy? Or even revenue. What are your thoughts? (Oh yeah, head over to their “revenue” page and become a Founder. Help support viral marketing examples like this).

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