The YouTube video "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)" from the Norwegian comedic duo Ylvis has gone from viral video to cultural phenom, ranking among this year's most popular Halloween costumes, according to one online retailer.
"The fox sold out almost immediately," said Marlon Heimerl, a spokesman for HalloweenCostumes.com in North Mankato, Minn. "Normally, that's not a huge seller."
Halloween costumes often reflect what's happening in the zeitgeist. The "Sesame Street" character Big Bird, for example, became a popular item after Republican candidate Mitt Romney invoked him in a discussion about federal spending a 2012 presidential debate. Korean pop singer Psy was in high demand after his YouTube viral hit "Gangnam Style."
This year saw avid interest in the "Twerkin' Teddy" leotard, following Miley Cyrus' provocative appearance at MTV's Video Music Awards, which sold out, according to Heimerl. (The "Hannah Montana" pop star costume, from Cyrus' Disney Channel days, is still in stock.)
The season's other hot sellers were inspired by TV, Heimerl said. A&E's reality show "Duck Dynasty" spurred a run on beards, wigs and camouflage tuxedos. AMC's "Breaking Bad" spurred demand for Walter White-style hazmat suits.
The absurd "The Fox" music video -- in which performers wearing animal costumes sing a song that appears to borrow its twisted inspiration from the children's nursery rhyme "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" -- was produced to promote Ylvis' late-night television show in Norway.
But the video captured global attention when it went viral on YouTube, where it has attracted nearly 175 million views since appearing on the site on Sept. 3.
"This would have been impossible 10 years ago -- a TV show in Norway has kids in L.A. dressing up as the fox," said Kevin Allocca, head of culture and trends at YouTube. "Yet, it doesn't feel incongruous at all when it comes to Internet culture."
Allocca said "The Fox" quickly caught on with the YouTube community, and has been averaging about 3 million to 4 million views every day. Typical viral videos see a big spike in viewership as people share it with family and friends.
Occasionally, a video becomes part of Internet nostalgia, like "Charlie Bit My Finger," a home video in which an infant boy takes a nibble on his older brother's finger, which continues to attract millions of views a year.
"A video like this, especially a video that's attached to a song, this is the kind of thing we saw with 'Gangnam Style,' that ballooned over months," Allocca said. "Everyone starts to share it. Then it becomes a shared inside joke."
The Internet video's popularity has elevated the status of brothers Vegard and Bård Ylvisåker, hosts of "I Kveld Med Ylvis" (Tonight With Ylvis), who subsequently have appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and as part of the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.
The single also reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Johanna Blakley, managing director of the Norman Lear Center at USC's Annenberg School, said she attended a Halloween party where two people were dressed as characters from the video -- evidence that what would normally be considered niche entertainment is reaching a broad audience.
"It's absurd that this non-commercial stuff gets so big on YouTube," said Blakley. "It finds an audience that the traditional media outlets never knew existed. That's why this is so fascinating. Even though it’s absurd and crazy, it gives us the possibility to dream about a media ecology where everybody's needs are met, where the most eccentric interests are fed by content producers who understand their weird audience."