Can you beat the Harlem Shake?

The use of the Harlem Shake trend to reach out to TG might be tricky. Experts suggest brands try to better the video, along with few other tips…

e4m by Saloni Surti
Updated: Mar 28, 2013 1:30 AM
Can you beat the Harlem Shake?

Not once while doing the dance must have Matt Harding (Where the hell is Matt) thought that his video of dancing around the world would create one of the biggest viral trends ever and surely neither did the Australian kids think about it while creating one of the most famous (now) internet meme’s in the history of virality.

It all began when five students in Queensland, Australia danced to Baauer’s version of Harlem Shake and posted it on YouTube, establishing a meme which was then replicated by thousands of people and brands with their versions of the Harlem Shake.


While people might be aware of how the Harlem Shake frenzy has picked up worldwide, little might they know about how marketers are being bashed for the overkill of the phenomenon? A number of brands were seen leveraging Kolaveri and Gangnam rage, but similar kind of use of this internet meme has invited some serious questions about the use of a viral phenomenon for marketing purposes.

As soon as Harlem Shake picked up on the internet, a number of brands such as Pepsi, Red Bull and 9XO were seen joining the bandwagon; either for marketing purposes or to merely promote their internal version of the meme. However, after a certain point, every version of the video was merely lost in the crowd; firstly, because there were already too many versions circulating on the web and secondly, because Harlem Shake as a property is too powerful and somewhere the brand communication gets dissolved in the fun element that the video comes with.

“There is too much of the same,” said Raj Deepak Das, ECD, BBDO. “Marketers should try and think how can they make it better? Brands should organise Harlem Shakes internally, release all the employee stress and after having experienced the phenomenon, they can come up with ideas that help them create a concept that goes beyond the usual Harlem Shake phenomenon.”

Das explained that a Harlem Shake is a Harlem Shake; nobody can make or imitate it. Thus, to leverage on the trend, brands need to look at how they can make a better version than the original by blending it with the brand’s communication.

While there is no defined right way to leverage a viral trend, one can always try and look beyond traditional lines to create a perfect fit of the trend with the brand. One of the most effective examples of a good brand communication is the use of ‘Where the hell is Matt’ in Visa advertisement. The advertisement very effectively conveyed the message of travelling without money with the help of Visa by riding on the video’s nature of depicting Matt dancing his famous step around the world.

“There are interesting possibilities that emerge,” said Sabyasachi Mitter, Managing Director, Interface Business Solutions, commenting on how brands can use Harlem Shake smartly. “For example (and some have done this), create a ‘best of Harlem Shake’ or other such compilations in line with the brand persona. Similarly, to address many Indian’s who may not be fully aware of what Harlem Shake is all about, brands could have used the opportunity to make ‘How to do the Harlem Shake’ in Hindi or other individual vernaculars or even used stand-up comedians to teach people how to do the shake.”

To explain his point of view with examples, Mitter explained that a Bingo could have created a Spiciest Harlem Shakes version or a Thums Up could have made a Toofani Harlem Shakes Collection version. Nautank Saala (film) and MTS were seen leveraging Harlem Shake effectively. 

Try this…
While the nature of the brand determines how the trend can be used to a great extent, there are a few methods that can be used by any marketer to make the best of the Harlem Shake craze. “The CEO of the company can do the dance, with the brand logo very visible. The products can do the shake, in an animation or brands can get their customers to do the shake and create an amateur video of it,” shared Sanjay Mehta, Joint Chief Executive Officer, Social Wavelength.

Riding on the back of a trend that the world is hooked to, on a low cost is something every marketer would look out for. However, utilising a viral trend to sell a product is a tricky business and thus brands should make sure they create a tactical connect.

“Harlem Shake is not something brands need to jump on instantly,” said Vineet Gupta, Managing Partner, 22feet. “Digital as a medium is such that something new keeps coming out. Marketers can keep an eye; if something clicks, they can use it. For instance hash tags, brands can leverage the relevant ones,” he added.

End of every communication through viral boils down to the right fit and communication; for Harlem Shake, it is a little different. Besides the right blend, marketers need to try and better it so as to stay different from the crowd. Apart from brand integrations on large levels through videos, brands can look at other innovative methods such as on-ground activations and contests to target niche audiences.

While one might not be able ‘to beat’ the Harlem Shake, one can definitely better it to reach put to the target audience. 

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