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Can YouTube beat the Super Bowl?

Volkswagen’s Star Wars commercial—made for the Super Bowl but released early online—was the most-watched video on YouTube yesterday. Will more people will see it online than see it on TV Sunday?

After just 2 days online, the 60-second version of the Darth Vader commercial had 5.6 million plays on YouTube with no sign of slowing down.

The number to beat: 106.5 million. That was the viewership of the 2010 Super Bowl, the most-watched program in TV history. The Steelers-Packers matchup is likely to draw similar ratings for Fox.

It would be historic if more people watch this ad online than during the Super Bowl. Only 32 YouTube videos have ever exceeded 100 million views, and most of those are music videos. None are TV commercials.

Still, this Volkswagen ad has a remarkable sort of appeal. I heard several people yesterday say they couldn’t stop watching it.

You can’t really separate this ad’s success from the Super Bowl. Volkswagen wouldn’t have spent as much money creating and promoting it, and people wouldn’t be giving it as much attention, if it weren’t to be aired to a large TV audience. But the online success is more than just a small bonus. Viral videos, unpredictable as they are, represent a revolution in advertising.

How so? It costs at least $2.5 million to run a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl. YouTube is free.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising, Social Media