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Marketers want nothing more than to be contagious.

In addition to producing ads, many companies are now in the business of video storytelling in a bid to be passed around online. But who did it best this year?

Google Inc., which owns YouTube – the video-sharing site where so many advertisers make their push for fame – on Wednesday released a list of the most viral ads of 2013.

The list is based on the number of times each video was viewed, but not only that: Google compiled it with an eye to conversation-starters as well.

"We don't just watch videos; we share, like, make responses and more. So we look at many factors … to identify the top trending [videos], including with ads," Google spokesperson Wendy Bairos said.

Here are the top performers, both in Canada and around the world.

The top 5 Canadian ads of 2013

1) WestJet
"WestJet Christmas Miracle"
Production co./creative agency: Studio M
7.7-million views and counting

This stunt video that the airline released on Monday has attracted more attention than any other Canadian ad online this year in just a couple of days. WestJet asked travelers what they wanted for Christmas and then Santa delivered their presents at the baggage carousel when their flight landed – with 18 cameras on-hand to capture the action. The result, edited together with carefully calculated swelling music, is constructed for maximum holiday sentiment, and online viewers have taken the bait.

2) Molson Canadian
"The Beer Fridge"
Ad agency: Rethink
1.99 million views at time this article was posted

In time for Canada Day, the beer maker decided to revive its "I. Am. Canadian" slogan, and released an ad linking that national identity with its beer once again: its agency built beer fridges that could only be opened by scanning a Canadian passport. They then left the fridges in public places in France, Belgium and the U.K. and waited for the party to start. The campaign was built on pride and resonated more online than any other Canadian advertisement this year.

3) Maple Leaf Foods
"Change Your Life With Bacon"
Agency: john st. 1.83 million views

Everybody loves bacon. A harried mother achieves better division of labour by bribing her family with cured meats.

4) Molson Canadian
"The Canadians"
Agency: Rethink
1.43 million views

Canadians have not traditionally been known as a patriotic lot, but Molson may have proven that old stereotype wrong with a bit of Canadian pride that shot up to over a million views in just its first few days online. Molson Coors Brewing Co. found success with this formula more than once this year (see No. 1). In this case, it leveraged our nation's travellers – and their reputation for hard partying – into a marketing hit.

5) Unilever Canada
"Dove Real Beauty – Canadian Mothers & Daughters"
Agency: Ogilvy Toronto

Unilever had a global hit with its "Dove Beauty Sketches" campaign this year, and the Canadian team moved fast to take advantage of that success. It used the same tactic – having women describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist – but for a Mother's Day twist, it had those women's daughters do the same to compare their view of themselves with how beautiful their daughters thought they were. To properly take advantage of the campaign's momentum, the Canadian spot was produced in just one week.

This ranking has been amended to reflect a change in Google's list since it was first published, in response to the growing popularity of WestJet's video. One entry has been removed: the fifth spot previously went to Target Canada's "Can't Wait to Meet you Neighbour" campaign with nearly 600,000 views.

The global top 5 ads

1) Unilever
"Dove Real Beauty Sketches"
Agency: Ogilvy Brazil
60.4 million views at time this article was posted

The latest contribution to Dove's long-running "campaign for real beauty" used a police sketch artist to show women how negatively they described themselves, and to raise questions about female self-esteem. It raised a debate about whether the ad's message was positive, or simply reinforced stereotypes about female beauty in the service of selling beauty products. But one thing was not in question: how intriguing the concept was. It was shared widely, and won the highest honour at the Cannes advertising festival: the Titanium grand prix.

2) Sony Screen Gems film remake of Carrie
"Telekinetic Coffee Shop Prank"
Agency: Thinkmodo
50.4 million views

Another in a long line of prank-based advertising, this video scored some cheap promotion for the release of Carrie by freaking out customers in a New York coffee shop. With pre-set props rigged to move on command and stunt people on site, the prank made it look as though a girl who got upset threw a man against a wall, toppled books off a shelf and moved tables, all with her mind – just like the fictional Stephen King character.

3) PooPourri
"Girls Don't Poop"
Agency: Harmon brothers
20.6 million views

Never underestimate the power of toilet humour. This brand of bathroom deodorizer used a lady with an English accent talking Number Two to advertise its product.

4) TrueMove H
"Giving is the Best Communication"
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Thailand
14.6 million views

Humour is one way to get noticed; emotion is another. This story of a young boy who repays a gesture of kindness 30 years later only has the vaguest connection to the actual product being sold (hint: telecommunications services) but captivated millions of viewers online.

5) Chipotle
"The Scarecrow"
Agency: Moonbot Studios and CAA Marketing
11.2 million views

After its animated video "Back to the Start" led Chipotle to awards at Cannes, it reprised the heartstring-tugging via animation this year with a new fable. The video depicts a monstrous factory farming operation and a simple scarecrow using traditional farming methods to peddle burritos. The ad attracted both praise and criticism for being manipulative. It also raised questions about whether it's possible to audit Chipotle's own supplier system. Chipotle's version of the story reached more than 11 million.

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