Gangnam Style Teaches a New Marketing Dance

Published 9/26/12
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Earlier this week, my esteemed colleague Chris Adams blogged about the innovative marketing techniques of U.S. political campaigns. Today, I want to elevate that conversation to an even higher level – we’re going Gangnam Style. Yep, believe it or not there’s a few marketing lessons that can be learned from the success of the song and dance hit performed by South Korean rapper Psy. After all, you don’t become the most watched and most liked video in the history of YouTube by accident.

Even if you’re not a big Korean pop music fan, you’ve probably still heard of Gangnam Style. Psy has been featured on American television (Today, Ellen, SNL), is topping the charts on iTunes, and as mentioned, is now the most liked and most watched video ever on YouTube. It has also quickly generated parodies that have received millions of views of their own (Oregon Duck Gangnam style is a favorite) and are helping to spread the original's message. But is there a marketing lesson for all of us in this? According to the Harvard Business Review the answer is Yes.

The article points to the Gangnam Style’s use of a new playbook that carefully blends media use, content development and message.

The highlights from HBR are:
Make your product or brand ownable: Simply put, what part of your brand can be “owned” by your audience. HBR points to Oreo's Daily Twist campaign as an example where people go beyond just clicking "Like" and offer personal and innovative ways to celebrate the cookie.

Be open-minded, but in a controlled way: Crowdsourcing can be a very effective strategy, but it needs to be controlled. Confining the source of ideas to a knowledgeable base can yield productive results. However, unrestricted crowdsourcing can lead to less practical or undesirable results. HBR sites the recent web poll that selected North Korea for Justin Bieber’s next tour.

Find an uncommonly-common emotional denominator that resonates across cultures: While the video was intended for his native country, Psy gained universal popularity as a pop idol for being unconventional – more like an anti-pop idol because of his fun attitude and average appearance.
Businesses and destinations can look to Psy’s positioning strategy - iconoclastic, fun and sincere – as a direction to generate their own marketing hits.

You can check out the full Harvard Business Review article here.