How To Go Viral Gangnam Style: Great Content, Great Marketing, Or Both?

How Psy's Gangnam Style Went ViralSouth Korean rapper Psy’s music video Gangnam Style became a viral phenomenon across the globe, racking up video views and spurring remakes, parodies and dance performances worldwide. The video debuted on July 15, 2012. By September 20th it had received the most likes of any YouTube video, according to Guinness World Records.

What fueled this meteoric rise in popularity – the content, the marketing, celebrity tweeting, or some combination of these elements?

Digital agency 10 Yetis conducted a review of the Gangnam Style’s success, looking at how the video gained such high levels of popularity, and whether the reported traffic volume was legitimate.  The main results: the campaign was an organic hit with little false manipulation of reported traffic or online mentions, and the video’s popularity was driven by a “well structured and meticulously executed campaign” by YG Entertainment, the South Korean label company behind the song.

The report analyzes three separate elements of the video campaign: the set-up by YG Entertainment, the song/video content itself and the media push following the video’s release.

Laying the Groundwork for a Well-Orchestrated Campaign

YG Entertainment had a wider business goal of breaking into the US and UK music industry, and had spent time (before the release of Gangnam style) setting up an office in the US, and exploring partnerships with artist Will.i.Am and record label Scooter Braun.

The record company had also “invested in organically growing an engaged audience” (The Drum), with around 2.5 million subscribers to its YouTube channels and nearly 1.6 billion views of music videos.  YG’s main artists also had Twitter accounts to push information to high numbers of followers.  With these in place, the company had a built-in audience to start a viral campaign.

Sharable Content With Global Appeal

Looking at the content of the video itself, the report determined it had the factors to become a “shareable” hit “across multiple genres, territories and sectors.”  Language was not a barrier due to the “catchy lyrics and punchy chorus.”  The dance and “eye catching” bright flashy colors were attractive to both adults and kids.  The video also mixed in some high profile characters, including a dancing boy from a well-known South Korean show and two popular South Korean entertainers/comedians, in addition to Psy’s previous success in the South Korean music scene.

The media push began just before the video was launched, with two tweets from @allKpop (associated with American, a site focused on celebrity and music gossip in the Korean music industry).  The first day it launched – July 15, 2012 – the YouTube video received over 500,000 views and debuted at #1 on the Korean music charts. It wasn’t picked up outside Korea until later July, with an article in Gizmodo (July 26) and Telegraaf in Holland (July 27).

Media Attention Fuels Traffic Spikes – And Led to Celebrity Tweets

While this bit of international attention created a slight upswing in views, things really got in motion when Gawker covered the song/video on July 30, followed by attention from Billboard, Huffington Post, CNN and Sky News. This coverage created a spike in traffic that led to a post about the video on YouTube Trends, and on August 7th it was named YouTube “Video of the Month” in terms of views and likes.

Celebrity tweets did play a role, with tweets from Josh Groban and TPain on August 1st, followed by Katy Perry and others — all of which added to the video views. 10 Yetis researcher Andy Barr noted: “Many online marketing analysts cited celebrity tweets as the reason behind the Gangnam Style success, but this was clearly wrong: celebrity tweets did not happen until after the initial spikes in traffic.”

On September 20th, Guinness World Records announced that Gangnam Style had the most “likes” on YouTube ever.  Views slowly began to decline from September 29th onward.

The Drum quotes Andy Barr: “This has been a really interesting piece of research and I will admit to being skeptical about the manipulation of the figures from YG Entertainment, but it is really clear that the campaign was well thought out, well executed and we at 10 Yetis doff our cap to Psy and the YG Entertainment team.”

However, while YG Entertainment clearly deserves credit for a well-executed campaign, the report has attracted some backlash – specifically pointing out that a great marketing campaign will never make up for poor content.

“The fact is Gangnam style went viral because of the strength of the video, and the ridiculous dance.  You can’t make a crap video go viral with a seeding platform. Plenty of good videos go viral without one,”  writes a user under the name David Ogilvy in the post’s comments section.  But Barr holds firm that both are necessary:  “video was key…but not only factor. Loads of great films don’t go viral, largely due to lack of seeding platform/skills.” He then asks to see an example of a brand film that went viral without this type of seeding platform or bought in traffic.

What do you think?  Was it the pure awesomeness of Gangnam style that made it go viral, or was the spread of a catchy video aided by platforms that the record company already had in place?