If you want insight into the year's best lessons in creative storytelling, don't just turn to iconic brands and giant companies. Instead, watch some YouTube videos. 

Digital media company What's Trending and video intelligence software platform Tubular Labs recently released their annual list of the top viral videos and stars of the year. Since the list launched in 2012, the digital landscape has changed dramatically--Vine, a bite-sized video platform, was still a year away from existence, and Instagram and Snapchat were just getting started.

Besides changing platforms, this year's hits are certainly a product of marketing mastery and branding brilliance. But not every name on this list has Taylor Swift's name recognition. Plenty of independent brands and unknown stars rose to the top in 2015. Here are the biggest lessons from the year's best viral videos, through the tutelage of YouTube stars Bart Baker and Shira Lazar.  

1. Yes, millennials still pay attention to advertisements--as long as they don't look like traditional advertisements.

One of the biggest surprises on the list was that two of the most-watched videos of the year were advertisements. Buzzfeed's "Puppyhood" video (sponsored by Purina) claimed the title of "Comedy Sketch of the Year," with 81.3 million views on Facebook, and 8 million on YouTube. Meanwhile, "Top Animal Video of the Year" went to "Friends Furever" by Android, essentially a highlight reel of unlikely animals playing together, which garnered 178.8 million views.

While Purina's wheelhouse consists of cute animal advertisements,  Android's  YouTube channel, featuring a mix of animal videos and traditional advertisements, doesn't necessarily read like that of a technology company. Instead, Android has directed some of its efforts to creating content that fits with viral trends--even if it doesn't seem right for a technology company at first glance. 

2. He (or she) who figures out how to disrupt traditional storytelling gets the most views.

King Bach (real name Andrew Bachelor) 2015's "Viner of the Year," is one of the six-second video platform's biggest success stories.

While Bachelor already had a solid YouTube following, the comedian's popularity really soared once he started creating comedy sketches for Vine starting in 2013. He now has 14.5 million followers (the most of any Viner) and has scored acting gigs on Showtime's House of Lies and Hulu's The Mindy Project.

According to Baker, Bachelor was able to find success on Vine early on because he recognized the platform's entertainment value straight away. When Bachelor started using Vine, people were still using it mostly to create snapshots of their everyday lives. They did what Baker calls "this is me and this is my house" videos. No one was really using it for comedy.

"He created the skit-type video on Vine," says Baker. 

3. Tapping into people's aspirations is a powerful tool.

The most popular Facebook video of the year is "Baked Apple Roses" by Tip Hero. The most shared Instagram video of the year stars Taylor Swift dancing with a seven-year-old boy who made a name for himself dancing to one of her videos on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show. They might seem like two completely different genres--and they are. One features a simple cooking tip, while the other features a pop megastar.

But both videos play into people's lifestyle aspirations. Taylor Swift, who Lazar and Baker deem "America's Sweetheart" in 2015, has seen her popularity continue to soar this year. Her Instagram, which has 57.2 million followers, isn't dominated by photos of Swift at red carpet events, but rather by photos of Swift with her friends taking trips to the beach, cooking, or having dance parties--all things Swift's followers do with their friends. Albeit Swift's squad includes models Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid, actress and writer Lena Dunham, and singer Selena Gomez. 

A February Vogue profile of Swift and Kloss highlighted not just their stardom, but also how they "forged the kinds of careers--and the kind of friendship--that people dream about." Swfit has the kind of life and relationships people aspire to, and that's why a video of Swift dancing  with a seven-year-old boy garnered 6.2 million views. 

Meanwhile, Lazar and Baker say cooking videos have really taken off this year, as producers have perfected an aspirational, bite-sized format.  Recipes are chosen not necessarily on how tasty or utilitarian they are, but more on how artistic and Pinterest-worthy the end product looks. Speed up the filming of the cooking process to make a 60 to 90 second video, and viewers are left thinking that they too, can create something beautiful in no time. 

"People love these quick-hit videos that show you how to make something cool," says Lazar.

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