3 Things the Harlem Shake Taught Me About Viral Marketing

I love it when a meme snowballs, it keeps it fresh enough for the public to enjoy for another 48 hours, or in other words Monday-Wednesday, universally the worst days of the week. The Harlem Shake is one such example of a viral phenomenon that just refuses to die, and just as I was getting over the ‘newsroom’ Harlem Shake, it emerged that the Simpsons have created an opening sequence to; you’ve guessed it, the Harlem Shake. Fifteen minutes of fame extended to twenty expertly done there.

In the case of the month’s biggest viral marketing hits, namely Three’s dancing pony and the continuing success of the Harlem Shake, there’s no mystery as to why we can’t get enough of people raving in the workplace and adorable Socks moon walking to Fleetwood Mac, it’s hilarious, sweet and basically breaks up the payday loan adverts.

But aside from being a 3 million hit wonder, the ongoing popularity of the Pony and Shake (as they will henceforth be known) balances not so precariously on the fact the viewer is given a golden invitation to become part of the success. Yes viewers, you too can make a dancing pony, get your work on TV and create your own (much better) version of the Shake.

1. Create a development project to continue your concept

In the case of Three’s pony, the ad actually encourages viewers to develop the concept, creating user engagement on a huge scale and keeping the approach fresh and current. Even a tasteless horse meat scandal parody technically garners support for the brand. It may be a dig at Findus, but it piggybacks on Three’s campaign and reaches a whole new audience of tongue-in-cheek seekers. From an SEO perspective, flagging up the current news spiel is hardly devastating either.

Tempting the public into developing your concept is in essence a work of sneaky advertising genius on the part of Three. Get the minions to create their own versions and roll out something new and different that still retains the main features of your campaign. But while ‘rave’ pony and ‘boy band’ pony take someone with some digital mixing skills unfathomable by the likes of me, some viral gems are quite simply so wonderfully uniting we can all get a piece of the action. Which leads us to successful viral marketing trend no. 2…

2. Create a snowball effect by ensuring even the most talentless can replicate your genius

Easily learnt + easily replicated = enough reproductions to flesh out your campaign well past its shelf life.

The beauty of the Harlem Shake is that everyone has a contribution to keep the meme snowballing on. Long after (in viral marketing terms 1 week) the ‘original’ Shake stormed YouTube we were still being told to look at the news room/swimming pool/fire truck version as they trickled out and compelled us. If any meme has taught us the world is a stage, the Shake has. Universities have done it, employees have been sacked for ‘shaking’ at work and conservative types have made fools out of themselves. Why? Because they can.

3.  Bring the hilarity in waves

We see this in the case of controversial blog posts, the blog raises an issue but the comments raise the roof and keep the good people coming back for more of that hilarious online barney. Opening a meme or piece of content for public manipulation can of course mean you quickly lose control, as is the nature of the viral beast. But as we’ve seen with the pony and shake, whether you intentionally appeal for replicas/comments or not, having people add to your brainchild can appeal to the consumer to consumer market on reaction basis alone. We’ve many a crazy commenter to thank for a sober online tabloid story about the cabinet becoming comedy gold and from an SEO perspective, Google likes a bit of user generated content too.

Viral marketing is a hard one to crack but if Gangnam Style, the Harlem Shake and Three’s moon walking Pony have taught us anything more than our arsenal of dance moves, it’s that public involvement campaigns combined with a good tune equal shares, replicas and ultimately, the viral fad eking out a little more of that golden 15 minutes.

Victoria Browne
  • Written by on 20th March 2013 at 10:48
  • “Victoria Browne is a copywriter & social campaigns manager at Fluid Creativity.”
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