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Case Study: How Gangnam Style went viral with a strategic marketing campaign from YG Entertainment

Digital agency 10 Yetis has revealed the results from its review into how the music video Gangnam Style became so popular online, finding that the campaign was an organic natural hit with little if any “gaming” (false manipulation) of traffic volumes and online mentions. Overall the report found that, rather than being celebrity tweets which drove the popularity, it was a well structured and meticulously executed campaign by the South Korean label company behind the song; YG Entertainment.

The report was broken down into three stages; firstly the set-up by YG Entertainment, secondly the song and the video content and finally the media push.

Creative Review: 

Gangnam Style

Stage 1: The Set-Up

Driven by the record label behind Psy (the star of Gangnam Style), YG Entertainment, the video formed part of a wider business goal to push into the US and UK music industry.

The report found that YG Entertainment had spent a significant amount of time, before the song came along, setting up an office in America and exploring partnerships with artists such as Will.i.Am. A deal announced with record label Scooter Braun was also brokered in advance, and planned to be announced at the right, strategic, time, so as to give the campaign a further boost.

The company also invested in organically growing an engaged audience, so that when the right song came along, they had a large platform on which to seed the campaign to ensure maximum exposure and a surefire online hit.

In addition YG's seeding platform, pre-Gangnam, it had around 2.5 million subscribers to its various YouTube channels and had achieved in the region of 1.6 billion views of musicians’ videos across those channels. Its main artists also, as is expected, have Twitter accounts, mainly being used to push information to high follower numbers. These seeding platforms were vital to its efforts. YG knew that its YouTube subscriber numbers alone would mean that it would get high volumes of views from day one.

Stage 2: The Content

They had the platforms and audiences to seed a viral campaign when the right opportunity came along.

Taking a closer look at the song and associated video, this too had the factors to not just become an online hit, but an online hit across multiple genres, territories and sectors.

The song was eye catching; the bright flashy colours being hugely attractive for kids. Crucially, language was not a barrier, instead comprehensible lyrics were replaced by a ‘catchy lyrics and a punchy chorus.’

The video for Gangnam Style used a mix of high profile and topical characters such as a dancing boy from popular show South Korea has Talent, alongside two well-known South Korean entertainers/comedians.

The report suggests that these three characters, combined with Psy’s own successful track record in the South Korean music industry, added to how “shareable” it was online.

Stage 3: The Coverage

Key milestones in the release of the video show various points during the rise, plateau and eventual decline in Gangnam Style popularity .

The video was launched on July 15 2012. It was proceeded by two tweets from @allKpop, the twitter account associated with American based AllkPop.com, a celebrity and music gossip site focused on the Korean music industry. On day one, the YouTube video had received over 500,000 views. The video went on to debut at number one in the Korean music charts.

Media outside Korea was slow to pick up on the video. An article in Gizmodo on July 26 followed by a feature in Telegraaf in Holland (July 27) caused a slight upward trend in video views.

The next big push came via Gawker, which wrote a story on the song and video that generated 19,00 Facebook Likes/Shares for the article (July 30) which was followed by articles in Billboard, Huffington Post, and TV news pieces from CNN and Sky News.

The spike in traffic and views of the video caused YouTube Trends to write a post on Gangnam Style, making it their Video of the Month in terms of views and likes (Aug 7).

Celebrity support via tweets, from the likes of Katy Perry and Josh Grogan, came much later into the campaign, but when they did they gave a further push in the video views.

The very final peak was when Guinness World Records issued a release relating to Psy breaking all known records for the number of views that the video has had. At this point, everything slows and a slow decline begins.

Speaking about the research, Andy Barr, head Yeti at 10 Yetis said: “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”.

He continued: “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.”