People: the real power behind Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake’s viral successes

Gangnam Style

Offering space in exchange for payment has become the tried and tested technique of monetising online properties. And rightly so; the number of eyeballs glued to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the wider internet on a daily basis make the world’s largest platforms the world’s most valuable.

This model has created a wide range of paid media products to choose from – leading to media plans that are awash with Facebook Like ads, YouTube InView ads and promoted Tweets.

But when you consider the size of the internet; social networks in particular, you start to wonder – isn’t there more of a role for people to play? Surely, if we focus solely on the paid component of the owned, earned, paid media model to amplify our message – we overlook the role of consumers in earning what could amount to millions of eyeballs worth of exposure?

By now, we’ve all heard of (or know the moves to?) Gangham Style and the Harlem Shake — both fads that achieved unsurpassed reach and adoption.

Ever wondered how they managed to record their names in the annals of viral infamy?

You might be inclined to think that it was a mixture of good content, timing and an organic groundswell of ‘viral’ conversation.

Well you’d be only part right.

This article — by 10 Yetis, a UK based digital marketing agency — sheds some light on the meteoric rise of Gangnam Style – the world’s most watched YouTube video of all time.

I do encourage you to read it but it’s quite long so I’ll summarise it for you:

YG Entertainment — Psy’s label — and Psy himself drove the video’s mainstream success via a series of meticulously planned events over a relatively short period of time. Nothing strange here, right – labels and artists do this all the time? What was surprising/refreshing, however was the massive involvement of people in their approach.

While there was the usual mix of press releases, tweets etc – according to the article there was also a suspiciously systematic series of celebrity mentions (Katy Perry, Josh Groban and TPain), news articles, and ‘fan’ videos on the way to what culminated in a Guinness Book of Records certification as the ‘most viewed video of all time’ with a little under 2 billion views!

I then read this article, about the Harlem Shake and found similar results. Again, give it a read — but here’s a summary:

Prior to 7 February 2013 — according to Google Trends — the term “Harlem Shake” was unknown. Then on the 7th, searches surged faster than any term Google had ever had, except for “Whitney Houston” in the wake of her death. Experts claimed that the Harlem Shake was an “emergent behaviour from the mind of the internet: a meme.”

However, this article’s research suggests that between 30 January and 8 February, a sequence of planned events marked the arrival of the internet’s newest sensation. It was seeded by a YouTube powerhouse, interpreted by two groups of bored long boarders and eventually picked up by MakerStudios — a studio specialising in making money from videos.

Mass TV and print coverage followed suit. On 20 February, Harlem Shake by Baauer entered the BillBoard top 100 at no.1 — the first artist in the billboard chart’s 58 year history to do so.

So the learning here is that while the internet can be a viral environment — the difference between 100 000 views and 10 million views — is people. While paid media support can grease the wheels — two of the world’s most popular content pieces prove that there’s value in making people a part of your media planning.

While we might not admit it in public — both Harlem Shake and Gangham Style are high production value pieces and that’s where everything should start.

Once quality levels are up to scratch — promotion will be easier. And cheaper.

Another contributing factor would be relevance; content that is relevant to an online segment that is large and/or influential enough – has viral capabilities.

Consider the relationship between quality and paid media spend:

People and Paid Media
High quality/relevant content requires less media budget while mediocre content could cost you millions in advertising and still not get you results.

In the case of both Gangham Style and Harlem Shake — stakeholders realised that they were sitting on a high quality, potentially ‘viral’ idea – a fact that allowed them to leverage a people as media approach and smash records.

The internet has facilitated connections like never before – and in spite of the fact that most consumers would only call up nine percent of their Facebook friends for a beer — the opinions of your connections, no matter how distant, are still more valuable than any other form of advertising.

Have you used people as media in the past? Tell us about it in the comments.



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