Tag Archives: gangnam style

Advertising should be like Harlem Shake

The biggest meme of the year thus far has been the Harlem Shake. Originally Harlem Shake was a dance coined in Harlem in 1980´s. It was inspired by Ethiopian dance called Eskista.
Last summer EDM artist Baauer did his song by the same name. It was played in the clubs, but nothing major happened.
Then it was quite quiet until YouTube-user called Filthy Frank did his version:

This video inspired other one, which created the current form of the Harlem Shake video:

Currently there are over 4000 Harlem Shake videos uploaded daily to YouTube with over 40 million views. The mainstream media is also quick to catch to the new Internet craze:

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Harlem Shake is great example of what kind of content spreads in YouTube.

What marketers can learn about Harlem Shake?

1. Make it short
Attention span for the content in the Internet is getting shorter and shorter.
Who has time for a three minute music video?
Or a 500-word blog post?

You have to be able to tell your message in 30 seconds or 140 characters. That is all the attention you will get.

2. Make it stupid
If you want to make viral hit, you have to hit the lowest common denominator. YouTube videos are majorly consumed in coffee breaks. People want then to escape their boring routines. They want entertainment, not education. Harlem Shake fulfills that need.
You can watch quite many Harlem Shake versions within your lunch break.

3. Make it easy to participate
The concept of Harlem Shake is simple.
First the video starts with one guy (usually masked) doing usually quite boring dance move. After the breakdown the scene turns to total mayhem with more people. And that is basically it.
No difficult choreographies or difficult lines you have to remember. Just gather as many people you want and go crazy. This makes it also ideal for offices and workplaces to participate. Easier than have the whole office running marathon. Engagement has to be made as easy as possible. Harlem Shake provides a blank creative canvas where people can create their own interpretation. If you want to make it big and difficult, you can do it. But also if you want to make it quick and dirty. Harlem Shake just provides you the form and leaves you with the actual creative execution.

The Harlem Shake is interesting phenomenon from music and marketing perspective. Baauer´s label Mad Decent has been quick to ride the bandwagon and compiles the new versions to their Tumblr-blog.

Is it new Gangnam style?

That remains to be seen, but traditional popular culture mechanics were turned upside down in this case. Harlem Shake will be hit because of the consumer-generated meme*. With Gangnam style the pattern followed more the traditional music video route (the dance was in music video).

*And if the meme is machinated by Mad Decent, it makes it even greater case example for marketers.

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Gangnam Style: The Evolution of Popular Culture

Click the video, if you have not yet see this after 462 252 104 (and counting) views on YouTube. Otherwise proceed to text below.

It has affected South Korean tourism and the stock values of software firms. Even F1 drivers are doing it.

No doubt about it, Gangnam style has been the biggest popular culture phenomenon in 2012.

What it tells about the current state of popular culture?

1. There is always demand for a catchy pop song.
You can debate about the artistic and musical merits of PSY, but you cannot deny that structurally it is typical and effective pop song. All the elements of the perfect summer jam are there: catchy chorus, shout-outs to sexy ladies and the signature dance which you can perform even after few pints. Gangnam Style is just the Macarena for 2012. Or Ketchup Song, Lambada… You catch my drift.

This brings us also to the important point about YouTube. The Internet might have revolutionized the distribution and the traditional business model of the music. It has not as much changed people´s taste for music. Although major record labels are struggling, there is still huge demand for mainstream music. If you watch top 10 of the most watched music videos in YouTube, they are all from major label artists. PSY was huge in South Korea before Gangnam style and hardly a rookie, having released his first album already in 2001.

Gangnam style would probably be not as big hit without YouTube, but it would have been hit nevertheless. You will always have gatekeepers in popular culture. The gatekeepers just might not be the same ones as before.

2. The cultural focus shifts to Asia
If you watch any new Hollywood movie, you are more than likely to see one (or all) of the following things:

a) One or more of the characters are Asian-origin (i.e. wife of Bruce Willis is Chinese in The Looper)
b) There are cultural references to Asia (i.e. Chinese gambling dens in Premium Rush)
c) The film takes place in certain Asian country (i.e. Bourne Legacy scenes in Manila)

The main reason for this is naturally the rising importance of Asian countries as the target market for Hollywood movies. As a movie producer, you have to take Asian countries in account to maximize profits and to secure investments in the future.

This cultural exchange is not unilateral. As the western companies concentrate more on Asia to keep afloat, especially the western teenagers consume more Asian culture to find their own thing and to differentiate from their predecessors.

Peculiar thing happened few years back in Finland. The teenagers started to dig everything Japanese. Whether it was J-Pop, Manga, Anime or the weird costumes. The cultural glue was the interest to everything Japanese. The same person might go to see heavy metal and dance act on same week, as long it was Japanese.

This goes against of my traditional view of how subcultures emerge. As a teenager I consumed popular culture that was majorly from USA. However it was more about certain genres than geographical areas.

K-Pop phenomenon was already making major waves before Gangnam style and something big was bound to happen. Gangnam style was just the most western-friendly, uniquely odd and the catchiest song to break into global mainstream. As a western listener you do not necessarily know where Gangnam is, or what oppa means but you can nevertheless get into singing the chorus and doing the horse-dance.

3. Ready for remix, build for parody, made for mash-up.

There used to be app for that. Nowadays there is Gangnam Style –parody for that. Even in North Korea. Here is the Singaporean version:

With current digital tools and democratization of technology, it is easier to become active culture participant. Parody is the highest form of flattery. If it has not been remixed, it does not exist. Gangnam style is the perfect song to make mash-ups on. As the money from music business now comes from different sources than traditional record sales, you have to do more than just good songs. You have to create miniature social movements, where people can participate.

Also our view of idols has evolved. When before the idol was someone you could not reach, nowadays you can just tweet to your favorite artist. And as record sales decline, the probability is just getting higher that the idol will actually respond as well. Reflecting to that PSY, who is self-proclaimed “fat father of two”, might just be the perfect idol type for the new century. At least compared to the polished superhumans of traditional broadcast era.

Will PSY be able to match the success of Gangnam style?
Most likely not.
Has he already left a permanent mark in popular culture?
Most likely.

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