We recently tweeted out a fairly stunning statistic regarding the sudden and overwhelming popularity of the ‘Harlem Shake’ craze that’s gripped this country over the last few weeks. The statistic was this: In the first 11 days of February, there were 12,000 Harlem Shake video uploads made to YouTube, totaling 44 million aggregate views.
Views are one thing. Videos go viral all the time to varying degrees, amassing staggering view totals for reasons that remain somewhat elusive to marketers. What’s most interesting about the Harlem Shake phenomenon is user interaction. The continued relevance of the Harlem Shake nearly a month after its initial blip on the pop culture radar screen is due in large part to the involvement of people throughout the country – and globe – who continue to concept, plan and execute their own versions of the Harlem Shake. There’s even an unnamed military unit that joined in on the fun, and as of this writing, they’ve amassed 27 million views in 2 weeks.
So what does all this mean in the world of millennial marketing? Same as always. The beautiful, yet aggravating thing about campaigns or videos that go viral is that they are built sans a set of directions. Many things can be said about Gen Y, one of them being that the potential for a video to go viral depends largely on Millennial approval. The problem, then, is simple, and much easier to diagnose: Gen Y is fickle.
Generation Y’s Internet savviness breeds waning attention spans, a penchant for being unimpressed and the general feeling that there’s little this group hasn’t seen before. The feeling of unadulterated joy, the experience of discovering something new and original and fun is not only rare, but continually watered down by click-hungry marketing departments: view counts, ad spends, analytics, conversions.
The sheen of purity inherent in the best ideas is often tarnished by the time it reaches an audience, especially one as skeptical and savvy as Generation Y.
There’s a famous scene in the 2011 film “The Social Network” in which Eduardo Saverin, the famed co-founder of Facebook, tries to urge Mark Zuckerberg to begin advertising on the site, in order to “monetize”. Zuckerberg responds, in reference to the infant Facebook.com: “We don’t even know what it is yet. We don’t know what it is, we don’t know what it can be, we don’t know what it will be. We know that it is cool, and that is a priceless asset I’m not giving up.” Whether or not this is how the convo actually went down, the point is simple: To be considered cool is the rarest of things, and it can disappear in an instant.
Right now, the Harlem Shake** is cool. Somebody somewhere will at some point try to make money from it, and that’s when things will die. There is no formula for the next Gangnam Style or the next Harlem Shake. These are products of originality, and in originality there is no recipe for ease.
We work with brands every day that want the inside track on the next Harlem Shake-scale craze. Our advice: Keep it original. Keep it cool (by keeping the blatant advertising out of it). And keep creating.
**Editor's Note: What’s particularly interesting about the Harlem Shake phenomenon is that it’s based on the original Harlem Shake, a dance born in the historic NY locale. And yet, it resembles the original in, well, no way at all. We'll let Harlem itself speak to this.