6 Reasons Why Gangnam Style was a Social Media Hit

Psy Gangnam Style Infographic

Last month saw the launch of Gentleman, South Korean sensation Psy’s follow up to Gangnam Style aka the most viewed video on the planet – ever.

In the wake of his newest video (which has already amassed a huge 263 million views at time of writing and has already broken a few records of its own), it got me thinking why exactly was (and indeed still is) Gangnam Style so popular?…

…And are there any lessons that can be used to create your own viral hit?

Watching the video again and trying to think about it from a marketing perspective led me to the following:

6 Reasons Why Gangnam Style was a Hit

1. It’s Funny!

The best thing about the Gangnam Style video is that it’s funny. Whether its Psy rapping in a toilet cubicle, submerged in a sauna, seducing a pop star on a metro or having a dance off with a yellow suited guy in a car park the video is designed to make you laugh.

Think about the vast majority of videos that are shared with you? Why are they shared? Usually because they are shocking, racy, or timely but more often than not it’s because they are funny. Humour is a hard thing to judge and not everyone will find the same thing funny but trying to incorporate some humour can give your video the entertainment factor and the edge it needs to spread socially.

2. It’s A Music Video!

Well duh of course it is you say. But take a look at this. Of the 20 most popular videos of all time on YouTube the vast majority are music videos and Gangnam Style only become the biggest video of all time by beating the video Justin Bieber’s 2009 hit Baby.

Is this something that can be incorporated into all videos? No, definitely not – but a catchy soundtrack is something that should be considered. Modern Music Videos are characterised by fast past editing and a rapid succession of appealing imagery – this is why they grab the attention and this is something content creators and marketers and brand owners need to consider: Keep it Interesting! Keep It Moving!

3. It’s Not In English!

I was in Barcelona earlier this year in a Lebanese café which had a TV that happened to be on a music channel. The usual mix of pop-dance-RnB videos were on rotation and little attention was being paid to the TV by the patrons who were of various nationalities. And then Gangnam Style came on.

And every head in the café turned to the TV. Bear in mind this was 9 months or so after the song had come out but it still retained its power to captivate an audience made up of at least 6 nationalities and languages.

Video is by its nature a visual medium but creating a video which can be understood and enjoyed just through visuals alone can cut across geos and hit a much bigger audience.

It explains why Hollywood comedies rarely succeed over seas even if they are smashes domestically but Sci-Fi or action films which utilise more visual storytelling tools often gross even more internationally than domestically.

In 2012 it was estimated that there were 914,398,325 people on earth who speak English. Of course that is a huge amount – but that also means there are over 6 billion people who don’t speak English. That’s a lot of people! Can you afford to miss out on that many potential customers? 

Lesson learned? Make it visually distinctive and understandable.

4. But It Has Some English Too!

“Hey Sexy lady!” This little chorus was something that non Koreans could pick up on and give them something to sing along to. This cross cultural appeal helped make the sing a global phenom and ensure it didn’t remain a Korea only hit.
Note Gentleman also has an English chorus.

Will savvy marketers or content creators pick up on this and create something that can appeal to more than one demo? After all this is the true appeal and purpose of globalisation: being able to sell your product or service to as many people as possible. Localising is great but if you can produce a piece of content that is a success without localisation then you’re already one step ahead of the game.

5. The Shock Of The New!

Psy was not a global star. And so when he hit the scene he wasn’t accompanied by the usual baggage that comes with established stars. This chubby jolly prankster looked and sounded like nothing else western audiences in particular had experienced. Teens especially are always on the look out for the Next Big Thing and love being able to boast to their friends about being the first to discover a new song, fashion or taste. People were keen to be the first to tell their friends about this crazy new video that they had to see smug with the knowledge they were cultivating their own images as a trend setters.

Later on people tried to accuse Psy of an anti US stance but by that time it was too late and his persona of a fresh new fun face was well and truly established. So don’t be afraid of trying something completely new. It may mean a bigger struggle against established competitors but it also means you have something fresh that no one else has seen. And that is priceless.

6 .Content Re-purposed!

This may have escaped your attention but did you know that the girl Psy seduces on the metro train is also an established K-pop star in her own right? And did you know that along with the official Gangnam Style video there is another spin off video which puts the emphasis on Hyuna with Psy supporting?

Even though it isn’t nearly as successful as the original this remix has still amassed over 352 million views.

Think about that.

This isn’t just a case of hedging your bets. Remixing is effectively re-purposing content and allows you to reach a greater number of people without having to create and researching something from scratch. If you have an infographic why not also turn it into a kinetic typography video? Or an eBook or a podcast?

Remixing / Repurposing can get your message out in more than one channel and to more than one audience.
Does this make rappers the best marketers of all? Hmm that may be a topic for another day!

So that’s my take on it. What do you think?  Was Gangnam Style a true one off or is there a unique formula that can help create a viral smash? Let me know below.

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