30 October 2012 - 7:20pm | posted by | 15 comments

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.”


31 Oct 2012 - 01:09
cmny820178's picture

i didn't even read this article because i can already tell you marketing strategy had nothing to do with it. it went viral because of what it is - strange, fun, catchy and joyful. anyone getting credit except for psy and those who created/wrote it are not deserving of such praise/accolades .

31 Oct 2012 - 17:38
coryh19274's picture

@cmny820178 You can make the greatest song in the world, but nobody will know about it unless your friends tell their friends.

in this case, people knew about Gangnam Style because Korean Pop afficionados shared the video, and because the record label had large distribution channels in place.

Would the song have been a hit without those things? Perhaps - but definitely not to the extent that it was.

31 Oct 2012 - 02:40
esthe19479's picture

YG has been trying to break into the US market for many years now starting with se7en, Big Bang, 2ne1 along with other agency's Rain, Boa, Wonder Girls, and Girls Generation. If your research is valid, there would have been at least one success prior to Psy, who was never meant for the international market. His has success because he has this incredible passion as an performer to entertain his fans.

31 Oct 2012 - 09:55
yyooc33169's picture

There is so much misinformation in the 10 Yetis report...where to begin?

T.Pain got the ball rolling in terms of celebrity tweets when he tweeted about Gangnam Style on July 29th.

The Guinness Book of World Records reported that Gangnam Style had the most "likes" on Youtube ever, not the most "views". They reported this Sept. 20 and a slow decline did NOT begin at this point.

I hope nobody got paid to do this shoddy research.

31 Oct 2012 - 10:52
lynnl's picture

Thanks to The Drum for showing the Gangnam Style video - has really cheered up my morning!!

31 Oct 2012 - 11:15
andybarr's picture

:-) I said being the first to attempt this would cause debate... At least I was right about that.

Tpain was not the first celeb tweet. Josh Grobin was. granted they were both on the same day, Aug 1st, Not July 29th.

They both tweeted following the Billboard article (I believe).

You are right re slow decline, that started 29th Sept.

The Guinness story was issued on 20th as search plateau'd (is that a word?), widely covered on 21st. Apols re views and likes mistake. Holds head in shame.

I firmly believe that Psy had more success this time around because he had a great song/video and a seeding platform that could give him 500K of vid views every day, from day one.

31 Oct 2012 - 11:24
Ogilvy's picture

It doesn't matter if you have a great "seeding platform". 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.

31 Oct 2012 - 12:48
andybarr's picture

I agree David (?!) video was key, if not biggest factor but not only factor. Loads of great films don't go viral, largely due to lack of seeding platform/skills. I would ask for an example of a brand film that went viral without a seeding platform/being seeded or bought in traffic?

1 Nov 2012 - 19:58
jakeb16762's picture

I think it has more to do with the video/music itself rather than the strategy.. as they say "content is king" If the video was a chinese man singing adele would it still of been a big hit because it had YG entertainments marketing strategy? I don't think so. It has more to do with the music rather than the marketing. I see what your trying to say that if these things didn't happen it wouldn't of been so big, but they would of happened because the song was great!

1 Nov 2012 - 21:43
skuhn14694's picture

I discovered the video through a parody, and went on youtube to find the original. Mashable ran at least 2 dozen stories on about 100 parodies. I still crack up just thinking about the Kim Jong Il one, and "Mitt Romney Style" - "hey, wealthy ladies" - rings in my ear. Ogilvy is spot on: the video was just plain awesome, the #1 factor in its spread. Even Mashable wrote that they couldn't stop sharing anything Gangnam style. I'd be the last to argue that the other work didn't matter, but the sheer brilliance of the product won the day.

3 Nov 2012 - 08:06
Sanja18098's picture

I think it's a simple case of marketing a good product. Great analysis, it's always not easy to pinpoint the success however being a digital consultant myself it's hard to believe that a video reaches to this level without a plan.

5 Nov 2012 - 11:10
Spottswoode's picture

"Charlie bit my finger" 493,000,000 youtube views. That kid must have had an amazing seeding and marketing strategy.

29 Nov 2012 - 09:35
jeffs18864's picture

There could be multiple reasons for the song's success but I guess the content (the music and dance) was the biggest contributing factor to the music's success. Just read another article as well that gave some reasons for the song's success - http://blog.socialmaximizer.com/why-gangnam-style-became-so-popular/ - but I still think that if the music wasn't half as good, whatever marketing strategy was thought up, it wouldn't have become so popular

5 Dec 2012 - 13:19
robin73717's picture

Interesting analysis. I found another interesting study of the huge success of this video - http://bitly.com/VfmcpT

31 Dec 2012 - 22:16
prodj73770's picture

I first heard this on my favourite radio station in Sydney, Australia. It struck me as being an odd song to play on this station because it was not entirely in english so it stuck in my head as that Dance Track with the guy with the baritone voice, non english lyrics and catchy one liner about the sexy lady. My station started putting the song in rotation playing it a few times a day. Months later, I saw it on Youtube via the Ellen show and how she wanted to learn the dance which prompted me to look for the original video. I loved the stupidity of the video and being a video d.j., started to play the song at my venues .. I used to play the song only because I loved the reaction of the club goers as they stood there scratching their heads saying WTF is this song?

So thats my story but it would be interesting to work out what motiviated my radio station to put this song into rotation months before it became popular ...


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