Gymkhana FIVE – The Most Viral Automotive Video Ad Ever?


It’s the mark of a great driving video that even when frozen still – in a photograph – you can still soak in the unique experience of Ken Block at maximum attack on the streets of San Francisco. Gymkhana FIVE: Ultimate Urban Playground has already made an impact just days after it was released earlier this week.

Grace with Pace makes for an irresistible combination, so irresistible in fact that the latest Gymkhana FIVE ad became the most viral automotive video ever with 14.3 million views, 1.2 million social shares, 25,000 YouTube comments, 154,000 likes and 2,800 dislikes – all in just four days.

The most viral video of all-time, ‘KONY 2012’, chocked up 57 million views in four days back in March this year, so although we don’t expect GYM5 to overthrow a global cry for human rights, it’s not bad for a middle-aged guy skidding a Ford Fiesta in bad trainers..

Perhaps the most telling insight into the viral performance of Gymkhana can be found in the video’s shares-to-views percentage, this is a measure of a video or brand’s social power. ‘KONY 2012’ currently stands at 10.93%, the hugely successful ‘A Dramatic Surprise on a Quiet Square’ reached its 38 million views with the social power of 11.15% and Gymkhana FIVE is currently at 8.4% having initially reached 11.7% after 24 hours.

Sharing tends to increase relative to views, as time goes on (views are registered by unique viewers, whereas sharing records every tweet, like or social bookmark) and rather than audiences tiring of Ken Block and his sideways antics, they seem if anything to be growing in their eagerness to spread the word.

Gymkhana FOUR which now ranks as the least-watched in the series shows a social power of 14.5%, Gymkhana THREE achieved 6.7%, Gymkhana TWO 3.9% while the original Gymkhana PRACTICE of 2008 saw just 1.33%, although to be fair social networks were but a speck compared to what they are now.

It’s a tremendous achievement for a guy who never takes his success for granted, but enjoys every minute of the fun he shares with his fans.

“The goal is to always to make the next one better, which is tough, because every time I finish one of these I think it’s the best one yet,” said Block.

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Should we be surprised by the success of Gymkhana FIVE?

With an accumulated 140+ million views from four rock solid hits, it would be easy to predict a fifth chart-topper, but as they’re all too keen on telling us in the Financial Services industry, “Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results”.

You cannot guarantee a viral success, but I’ll leave you with a few principles that could be applied to any digital campaign or broadcast, and which Ken and I spoke about when he was in the planning stage of Gymkhana FIVE last year:

  • Build anticipation prior to revealing the finished product – with 3 teaser videos, a Facebook competition and almost daily updates in the final few weeks, millions of people had already decided they needed to see Gymkhana FIVE when it launched on July 9th. Filming in such a busy city as San Francisco will naturally have boosted awareness beyond those hardcore Block fans who’ve been waiting since Gymkhana FOUR.
  • Do something people can aspire to – hooning a 650bhp rally-cross car through the streets of a major city must rank as one of the top bucket list items anyone could imagine. Showing behind-the-scenes glimpses of how much fun you had filming it, either makes everyone hate you or wish they could be like you. I’m betting most of us think the latter, although we DO hate Block just a little..
  • Engage the audience in your adventure – this is something Block describes as ‘living the brand’ and which rival sportswear brands such as Burton and Nike would do well to learn from. Celebrity brand ambassadors are fine, but when your company exec is out there raising the bar for your brand, it counts for a whole lot more with real consumers than a paid endorsement ever will. Also, rather than standing on a pedestal, Block is keen to involve himself directly with fans as he did in the Gymkhana World Tour and forthcoming Gymkhana Grid.
  • Provide fans with the opportunity to turn their support into meaningful value – it still surprises me the number of brands who fail to add a clear call-to-action to their multi-million dollar ad campaigns, and when they do so, they’re almost embarrassed (or afraid) to mention ‘a product’ just in case viewers take issue and express their displeasure at being so cynically exploited. Block on the other hand spends a full 40 seconds (of the 9:52 minute video) shamelessly promoting the latest DC Shoes apparel and the 246bhp Focus ST from automotive partner Ford. Genius.

Simple really. So now you know.

Image credits: DC Shoes, Tony Harmer.