Gangnam Style: Why It Would Have Been Impossible Ten Years Ago

Alesia Krush
Alesia Krush Internet marketer, Link-Assistant.Com

Posted on February 25th 2013

Gangnam Style: Why It Would Have Been Impossible Ten Years Ago


Katie and Mindy Anderson reaction to Gangnam Style

What do Googler Eric Schmidt, Miss Universe-Philippines 2012 and rapper MC Hammer have in common? All these people have been spotted doing the Gangnam Style dance in public.

I bet many are sick and tired of Gangnam Style by now. Even PSY said he’d never perform the item in the United States again, as the country had had "too much" of it.

But, pop fluff apart, what can we marketers learn from this viral marketing success story? Was it to be expected? Would it have been possible 10 years ago when YouTube was non-existent?

Turns out, many critics compared Gangnam Style to Macarena. Without reading any of the critique, I thought the same. But would Macarena get over 1 billion views if in the 90’s the market conditions were similar to the ones we have nowadays? In fact, I think that could have been the case.

How I came to know about Gangnam Style

Just likePatrick Murphy who wrote "3 Things PSY Taught Me About Second-Hand Social Media Shares", I was pretty late to Gangnam Style. And, if it weren't for the media people mentioning it all the time, I probably would never have noticed the music video.

What made it go so viral? Well, we can now engage in the chicken-egg debate and say that it went viral either because high-profile celebs had noticed it, or because the video had the potential to get noticed - such talk would be of little use.  

A more important (and useful) task would be to dig into what provided the basis for the success of Gangnam Style, and whether another such happening could be possible in the future.

In my view, Gangnam Style was like a fit of lightning that lit the present-day Internet landscape, revealing the potential its ecosystem had accumulated over the past 10 years. And, what made Gangnam Style happen was the following:

1. User generated content

No doubt, Gangnam Style provides plenty of space for parody and piggybacking. Promptly, Gangnam Style parodies popped up in different parts of the world, the language being no barrier at all. And this was largely facilitated by the fact that anyone and their dog can generate web content nowadays.  

Probably the first video about Gangnam Style uploaded in the Western Hemisphere was "PSY Gangnam Style MV Reaction" by Katie and Mindy Anderson. And the earliest Gangnam Style parody was done by Simon and Martina Stawski (a Canadian couple living in Seoul) of EachYourKimchi.

So, user generated content was what really helped Gangnam Style sprawl into so many world regions, including some nearly impossible-to-penetrate s areas - North Korea and the Guantanamo Bay prison.  

Besides, the tidal wave of Gangnam Style parodies is still big! I've just checked the web for new remakes of the record-setting music video and have discovered that "NASA Johnson Style" is trending at the moment.

Here is me listening to social media talk via BuzzBundle:



2. PSY's rumored waiver of copyright

Another factor that helped Gangnam Style take over the world was PSY's reluctance to press legal charges against the people who used his song to make parodies. I think the artist's stance on the copyright to Gangnam Style has really worked like greasing oil for the item’s speedy take-off.

Besides, YouTube nowadays does a great job handling messy lists of videos by the same name. Every time I checked, PSY's original music video from his official channel ranked first or second for "gangnam style."

In my opinion, the fact that the original version of the video was easy to find most of the time was also of importance: first, this allowed for easy views count tracking and, second, it provided the best possible experience for those who wanted to watch the vid.

3. The mobile web

When one hits the Statistics button right underneath the Gangnam Style video, a mostly curious fact is revealed: out of the video's 1.25 billion views, 438 645 781 were from mobile devices. That's more than  one-third of all the views!

Take a look for yourselves:


A lot has been said about the mobile revolution, and I can only repeat that the mobile Web is predicted to take over the stationary Internet by 2014. But, as you see, mobile is a huge power already. And, but for the mobile Internet, who knows - maybe Gangnam Style would be enjoying only 814,239,671 views by now.

The takeaways

So, what conclusions can web marketer make from the success of PSY's viral video? I'm thinking the following ones:

  • When creating content, make sure it provides space for piggybacking, copying, remakes - in a word, do something different that sets the trend.
  •  Encourage your audience to interact with your content - people get inspired when they can take an active part in the process. If you think about it, most uber-viral campaigns were interactive: from JibJab's Christmas Elves to the Old Spice man responding to the users' tweets on YouTube.
  • Optimize your content for mobile – this segment of the web simply can't be ignored anymore.

The new possibilities

Even though the Gangnam Style video did set a new benchmark for viral marketers, the record will probably be beaten in the future. The web is getting bigger, the world is getting smaller, and the speed and the scale of engagement is likely to get much greater in the future. And then, only the sky will be the limit. Happy viral marketing!

UPDATE: As this post was being prepared for release, The Harlem Shake, a new Gangnam Style-esque viral video, appeared. See the tendency? ;)

Alesia Krush

Alesia Krush

Internet marketer, Link-Assistant.Com

Alesia Krush is a blogger and a Web marketer at Link-Assistant.Com, home to the industry’s best SEO and SMM tools. The software developer’s most recent initiative has been the release of the revolutionary BuzzBundle SMM tool that lets one easily manage their brand’s reputation and wage viral campaigns in social networks, blogs, forums, Q&A sites and other Web 2.0 properties.

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