Have you checked out these lists of YouTube’s most-watched videos of 2010 or YouTube’s 10 favorite videos of 2010 (according to fan voting)?

As usual, the top videos are a mixture of humor, spectacle and quality (OK Go, Antoine Dodson, “Double Rainbow”).  But perhaps most surprising among the Top 10 is the inclusion of the original Old Spice Super Bowl ad that spawned the company’s ongoing TV and web campaign.

Why is that surprising?

Because, simply put, there’s no reason that anyone online ever needs to watch an ad.

Yes, you may have to watch an ad in order to get to the video you actually want or need to watch, but when you have complete control of your online time, there aren’t many cases when you’ll consciously choose to spend it being marketed to.

At best, a good web video ad is one that doesn’t aggravate us while we’re waiting for our chosen video to load.

So how did Old Spice make a commercial that became one of the year’s most-watched videos?

Three answers:

  • It was funny
  • It was absurd
  • It was incredibly well-made

Humor, spectacle and quality.  Those traits were commonly seen in this year’s (and, really, every year‘s) most-watched videos.  Old Spice happened to combine them all into one video, and did so in a way that surprised the media at large — which, as a result, couldn’t stop sharing these videos.

Because no one expected Old Spice to reinvent themselves in this manner, doing so created a series of talking points that pushed these videos to the forefront of everyone’s infostream.

Can your brand do that?  Doubtful.  Catching lightning in a bottle is an annual rarity.  Not every ad campaign will be “the new Old Spice.”  In fact, almost all of them won’t.

And that’s actually good news.

Trying to be the most popular video on the web is going to be an exercise in frustration that distracts from your company’s actual goal: to be profitable.  Is Old Spice happy that they greenlit a popular ad?  Sure.  Are they happier that Old Spice sales skyrocketed as a result?  Undoubtedly.

So instead of trying to produce the most-watched video of 2011, focus on producing videos that increase your brand’s audience awareness and drive sales.  (Or, if you’re a non-profit, create videos that drive awareness and donations, as these popular videos for Toronto-based charities have done.)

And if you have a sense of humor about it, so much the better.

(Have we mentioned we produce web videos for our clients?)