10 reasons why Gangnam Style became a global hit

by Nigel Hollis | November 21, 2012

Last week I was in Shanghai, China, to deliver a workshop on the instincts and motivations behind online behavior with my colleague, Gordon Pincott. During the workshop we had the opportunity to discuss the success of Gangnam Style.

Gordon is a big fan of the video (even if he has yet to learn the dance moves) and he is not alone. In the unlikely event that you have not heard about this phenomenon, Gangnam Style is a song by South Korean rapper, Psy, and the music video has gone viral on YouTube with more than 730 million views in four months. Most people involved with the world of marketing have heard of the video, even if they have not seen it. And if you are one of the few that haven’t seen it, here is another chance to see what your colleagues are talking about.

According to the group in Shanghai, here are the 10 reasons why Gangnam Style has been so successful:

  1. The music is catchy: The rhythm is simple and repetitive.

  2. Synergy between the music and visuals: The visuals are cut to fit the rhythm really well, making the most of the interaction between the two.

  3. Silly but fun: Yes, it is silly, but, as someone in the group said, “it is a pure joy to watch.”

  4. Ambiguity and intrigue: Several of the scenes are ambiguous and make people wonder what is going on. Who is the guy in the sports car? What’s up with the guy in the elevator?

  5. Doesn’t take itself seriously: Psy is making fun of himself while making fun of every pop video cliché you have ever seen.

  6. South Korean cool: Would the video have the same appeal if it came from a U.S. or UK rapper? The origins of the video lend it a certain charm for people elsewhere in the world.

  7. The format lends itself to parody: Whether it is the Thai Navy, Eton School or My Little Pony, the video provides content that is easy to replicate. 

  8. The dance: It is simple to learn and extends the engagement from the digital to the physical world.

  9. The back story: The fact that Gangnam is a district in Seoul, originally somewhat seedy but now the haunt of the nouveau riche lends extra depth to the video’s success.

  10. Peer pressure: Now that the video has been seen by so many people, peer pressure encourages people to watch the video in self-defense – “What? You still have not watched it? Lame!”

All of these factors combine to make Gangnam Style a video with LEGS that have carried it around the world. Of course, as detailed in this post here, Gangnam Style would not have been so successful if YG Entertainment had not prepared the ground well. The company is reported to have 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 and ensure exposure. Still, seeding alone will not get you a hit. You have to have the right content and Gangnam Style hits the spot on several counts.

Do you agree with our assessment of Gangnam Style’s success? What conclusions can we draw from them for the world of marketing? Please share your thoughts.

5 comments

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  1. Nigel, December 03, 2012
    Hi Jeremy, I beg to differ but I do reference YG Entertainment's preparation work and state,"Gangnam Style would not have been so successful if YG Entertainment had not prepared the ground well." I guess I thought people would get bored if I banged on about the need to seed viral effectively yet another time. 
  2. Jeremy, December 03, 2012
    Great article Nigel but you make one HUGE omission. YG Entertainment, the company behind Gangnam Style, had been working on a community management and seeding plan for the last 2 years and they put all those assets into action in order to make it look like a "viral success". They had built a base of 2.5m subscribers with a combined 1.6bn views so that when they found a song that ticked all the cultural and digital boxes - they just unleashed a massive seeding plan.

    The content and deliver was indeed important - but it was the digital prep that went into the project which made Gangnam such a success - sadly not many of the superficial points stated above.

    Read more --> http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/10/30/case-study-how-gangnam-style-went-viral-campaign-yg-entertainment

    Google are just as quick to jump to conclusions and have us believe that it was also a viral success comparing Psy to Justion Bieber. Placed into context - we realise that like most viral hits, there was actually a lot of hard work and manual labour that went into making it "viral". It reminds me of that old Arnold Palmer quote, "The harder I practise the luckier I get".  
    http://youtube-trends.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/psy-passes-bieber-gangnam-style.html

  3. Gideon, November 28, 2012
    Hooray, so glad to hear that Psy has toppled the Biebster. He was never a worthy king of the pile. 

    As I said in Shanghai at the time, in one sentence: "5 minutes of pure joy"
  4. Kathryn Kure, November 25, 2012

    With 805 million views, on YouTube, Gangnam Style has just passed Justin Bieber's Baby as the most popular video. Even more fascinating, according to TechCrunch, is that Gangnam Style has 5.3 million likes and about 320,000 dislikes while Baby has 1.4 million likes and 3.2 million dislikes. 


  5. Gordon Pincott, November 21, 2012
    Nigel,  I am so pleased that even you have finally realized the true wonder of Gangnam Style!   On Thursday last week I was talking to a group from all around Asia.  Whilst they had a lot of the same reactions someone also said that seen from within Asia  "Korea is the new Japan".  Obviously China and India and Indonesia are seen as massive developing economic powerhouses.  But Japan was the first to be big and it has a strong popular culture.  It lost its economic lustre a long time ago but it seems the view is that it is also losing its cultural crown - to Korea.  With this lense the success of PSY in Asia does not seem nearly so "out of nowhere" as it does in the West.  He will be in Thailand in the next few days where he claims to have 40 million fans - I make that more than half the population!

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