Gangnam style phenomenon; or what makes a viral video

Date: 15.11.12

If your eyes and ears are not impaired, you have obviously watched “Gangnam Style” video at least once. Confess, if you watched more than once, I shall understand, as I watched it three times: for the first time because it made a buzz, for the second time, because my children wanted to watch it; and for the third time to understand why I liked it those two times.

In this article I’d like to analyze, how it happened that a Korean song became the world’s obsession and how it happened, that a YouTube video went viral.

The deeper I was taking into the subject, the better I understood that this success was no way fortuitous. It came to reality thanks to a well-thought out strategy.

This is how I see it was done.

Step 1. Launching internet platform to acquire the first audience. Before Psy’s video emerged, YG Entertainment (the parent company) had a few YouTube channels, with more than 2.5 million subscribers. It meant that when they launch a new product, many people shall watch it just because they are subscribed to the updates of the company. This calculation worked well, as the first day brought the video over 500,000 views! Of course, they entered YouTube chart.

Step 2. Picking up the right characters for the viral video. Here YG Entertainment casted well, too. Not mentioning Psy himself, they invited a boy, who had become a media favorite after “Korea’s Got Talent” show, a famous comedian, and one more pop artist. The cast made the product a hit in South Korea. This caused people sharing the video and following it. The song shortly became No.1 in South Korea pop songs chart!

Step 3. Stable growth of popularity. Letting people to get acquainted to the product. It took about a month for the song to become well-known and to start attracting attention outside South Korea. People twitted, shared and followed. At some point the video came to attention of different famous people, who twitted it, too. Of course, such facts were well broadcasted. Some supportive tweets came from a resource devoted to South Korea pop music, @AllKPop.

A notable event were compliments by July Gawker on July 30th, which led to 19,000 of likes/shares on Facebook. Billboard attention followed, causing further public people’s tweets. All this hassle attracted more traffic to the original song on YouTube.

Step 4. Total obsession. The song went everywhere. The Time Magazine covered it, Mashable wrote it up. On September, 3rd, Psy was noticed having a drink with Scooter Braun (a manager for Justin Bieber). This video was uploaded on YouTube and drew much attention. The two people being captured over the drink could mean only one thing: Psy was going to become a fab in the United States!

Most likely, this Scooter Braun’s deal had been actually made long before September. The video was published this day and not before for the strategy reasons I triggered earlier. The whole campaign went by gradual growth scenario, and in September it was the right moment to make a culmination.

Scooter Braun has got great connections in different sectors of society, and all these contacts were at Psy’s service at a glance. No wonder Psy appeared at MTV Awards (as a last moment guest that time, though) and accompanied Britney Spears at the TV Show Ellen. Predictably, Britney twitted the event, causing a flood of 1.3 million tweets to come.

Braun arranged for Psy’s invitation to NBC Today, followed by the second presentation by Ellen. Twits, searches and shares grew again, of course.

The emphasis was nomination by Guiness World Records. The video became the champion in number of views. No other video in the world was watched as many times as “Gangnam Style”. Ever.

At this point Step 5 had to be taken, and it was. Ceasing and leaving fans longing for new videos to come.

This step should not be underestimated, as any person, a product or an art object can become boring, if seen too much around. The creators of “Gangnam Style” knew this too well, no doubts.

They left fans exclaiming “Gangnam Style” and smiling, and marketing specialists wondering for all secrets behind this great success. As you can see, there were the secrets, but there was no hidden play behind the scene.