Over the last month, 30-second video clips of costumed people dancing spastically to the now-familiar refrain of “The Harlem Shake” have taken over the internet.If you have a wifi connection, then you’ve probably seen the meme. (Whether you understand it or not is another issue entirely.)
Just like the “Call Me Maybe” phase of 2012 — in which every office and sports team made a momentarily viral variation of the music video — almost everybody is starting to make Harlem Shake videos.
And just as advertisers were quick to jump on “Call Me Maybe” (the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders and Abercrombie male models both crooned Carly Rae Jepsen) to show how hip, irreverent, and internet-friendly they were, agencies have become obsessed with the Harlem Shake on YouTube and Facebook, too.
About 60 ad agencies have made Harlem Shake videos, yet only one branded Harlem Shake video cracked the top 200 most-shared videos on the web, according to Unruly Media, which tracks viral video.
The Harlem Shake, it seems, is an advertising trend where supply far outstrips demand.
Here’s how it happened.
Who’s doing it?
Even though publications insist that the meme is dead — the Atlantic Wire made this claim particularly loudly after Al Roker danced to it on the Today Show — brands aren’t letting go.
After Facebook and other offices created employee videos, a jaw-dropping 60 —60! — ad agencies (and counting) followed with their own Harlem Shake variations.
Internationally there’s TBWA Paris, DDB Barcelona, and Grey Moscow. In the U.S. everyone from small shops to big boys like Wieden + Kennedy, which created Old Spice’s “the man your man could smell like,” posted videos as well.
To capture the madness, someone even created a “Harlem Shake Agency” Tumblr, which aggregates every single shop’s video.
While a group of Australian gold miners were fired for breaking safety protocols after posting an on-the-job Harlem Shake video, at ad agencies the video almost seems like a mandatory work activity.
Brands, brands, and more brands
As soon as ad agency individuals were doing the Harlem Shake, the world must have known that the branded content would soon follow.Of course, there are different types of branded Harlem Shake videos. While players on the Miami Heat, Google employees, and members of the Norwegian army do represent and essentially market their “brand” when doing the dance, those examples are very different from a literal Pepsi can doing the number.
And that’s no exaggeration. Pepsi’s digital shop DeepFocus did a video of soda cans dancing to the song. The internet did not respond particularly positively. Time published an article called “Here Is Why Pepsi Cans Shouldn’t Do The Harlem Shake,” and the company mysteriously took down the video. Now all that shows up is a message that the content is private.
According to Unruly, which measures how people share YouTube videos, Pepsi was the 159th most shared Harlem Shake video on the internet. None of the other branded videos made the top 200. It was shared on Facebook and other social media platforms 11,753 times and was viewed 250,000 times before it was pulled from YouTube. (Shares are not the same as views, of course, but they are a proxy for online popularity.)
Still, Pepsi has another video that’s still up in which Jeff Gordon and his crew do the Harlem Shake in front of a car that reads Pepsi Max.
And if you’re really craving seeing cans do the Harlem Shake, there’s also Dr. Pepper’s version in which cans are held up by strings and gyrate to the song.
Other brands that jumped on the bandwagon include Red Bull, Top Shop, KFC, Lego, Ask.com, and Hot Pockets.
Brands are under a continuous amount of pressure to have a 24/7, real-time marketing team that’s on top of every trend. Oreo, for example, was hailed for its quick Twitter response during the unexpected blackout during the Super Bowl. After that, brands in general attempted to emulate the 24/7 social marketing response time.Advertisers also don’t want to be the only ones to miss out on the Harlem Shake — even though they suspect the trend is dwindling.
On the YouTube explanation of Red Bull’s Harlem Shake video, the company wrote, “It seems that everyone is making Harlem Shake videos, and to be honest it’s about time to close this chapter of the Internet. That’s why we decided to go out with style.” As if it could be the definitive last Harlem Shake YouTube, while it’s still cool.
It seems to have worked, the Red Bull meme video already has more than 3.9 million views in just days.
Suzie Reider, YouTube’s head of industry development, told Mashable, however, that we are nowhere near the end of the craze and we will continuing seeing different videos pop up through the summer.
She says consumers aren’t jaded when it’s marketing video. “If you look at the comments, you don’t see a lot of cynicism.”
Where did the Harlem Shake come from?
In 1981, an artist by the name of Al B allegedly “invented” the Harlem Shake in, you guessed it, Harlem.In a 2003 interview with InsideHoops.com, Al B explained, “It’s a drunken shake, anyway, it’s an alcoholic shake, but it’s fantastic, everybody loves it and everybody appreciates it. And it’s glowing with glory. And it’s respected.”
Although it (allegedly) has roots in the Ethiopian dance “Eskista,” Al B insisted that it was “Egyptian jazz,” continuing that “Pharaohs invented this thing, with spears, and hats, and gowns. And so, it becomes a subject of being communicative to the system and to the realisation. If you get my drift.” Sure.
That, however, is not the Harlem Shake that we’re dealing with 10 years later. The current dance is far more jerky; it’s irreverent as opposed to a form of self expression.
“And though the co-opting happened quite by accident, the damage may already be irreversible, as it has been all but stripped of its cultural context and meaning,” Tamara Palmer wrote on TheRoot.com.
This version of the Harlem Shake became viral in February when a group of young guys from Queensland, Australia, posted a video of first one and all of them dancing in costume to Baauer’s 2012 mix of Harlem Shake.
Days later, a meme was born. And advertisers probably won’t give it up any time soon.
Here's Red Bull's epic sky-diving Harlem Shake video. It has been viewed 4.6 million times in less than two weeks.
Hot Pockets do the Harlem Shake. One of the food company's last videos starred Snoop Dogg/Lion rapping, so this is a natural progression.
Even Southern Water UK did a Harlem shake video in a Brighton sewer. It also turns out that the water company has mascots.
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