Gangnam style - from buzz to trend, case study

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Gangnam Style is an international buzz. Within three months, this Korean MV received over 600 million viewers from everywhere in the world. A very atypical case study.

If you missed this worldwide success, it isn't too late to update yourself: Gangnam Style has literally invaded over 600.000.000 computers within the past three months.



But we are not here to talk about music: what shall trigger our interest here is how a Korean clip launched such an international buzz. This is a case study to apply to your own strategy.


How PSY did change an MV into trend

Numerous elements explain Gangnam Style's success. Separately, those elements might not explain such success. All together, the concept becomes viral and captivates the entire world. - Gangnam style - du buzz au phenomene de mode

A local star

PSY is a South Korean rap singer very popular in his country. As he lived in the US for about four years, he has also developed a special link with this country, even though he wasn't famous there.

The first winning element for PSY is to have, for over 10 years, a local fans base.


A different direction

If most successful rap songs are based on suggestive dances, young half naked ladies, huge gold chains and expensive cars, Gangnam Style decides to take another direction.

Indeed, if you watch Gangnam style you will see the same suggestive dances and the same gold chains, but in a parody. PSY takes all those "clichés" and makes fun of it instead of taking them seriously.

If rap dances are usually very serious and used to impress you, excite you or make you dream, PSY involves you in the "horse dance", a ridiculous dance led by a rather chubby singer taking himself very seriously... and followed by very "sexy ladies"!

The bet was risky: it is often easier to follow the trend than fighting against it. But the contrast between the American dream and this ridiculous parody is one of the main elements of Gangnam Style's success.


Participatory creation

This element remains unconfirmed (do not hesitate jumping in if you would like to confirm or invalidate this point) but it seems that PSY would have used a "participatory creation" system to come up with his "horse dance".

The concept, is confirmed, is as simple as efficient: ask your fans what they would like to see in your future MV. Throw some ideas, participate in the debate, let people give their opinion, collect suggestions, filter the most popular ones... you can hardly be wrong if you idea comes directly from your customers!

Even more: if your fans feel "involved", if they have the feeling to "own" part of your work, they will be even keener to promote this piece of art!

Here is another very interesting element contributing in the success of Gangnam Style: keep your customer involved and let him participate in the creation process.


Simplicity and symbols

I mentioned it earlier, but let's look at this point with a different angle. PSY did not get rid of the symbols and "clichés" of rap in Gangnam Style. He just mocked them. But symbols are here, and those are essential!

By using such symbols you make sure people recognize and understand what you are doing. It is because of symbols that the people are able to appropriate and understand your work.

But symbols only attract people. To retain them, you will need to make use of simplicity.

Do you remember the worldwide famous 1995 music hit? Macarena. And do you have any idea why this clip was so popular and why you still remember it 15 years later? Simplicity.

Some easy to copy dance steps made the Macarena popular. Sometimes, it doesn't take more to create a buzz!

But simplicity can be pushed further. Here we are talking about a Korean Music Video. Among the 600 million viewers, few are those who can actually understand Korean. Luckily, PSY is also a great marketer: the music is filled with "internationally understandable" keywords such as "style", "sexy", "lady", "baby"... and everyone can sing along!

That is another very important element of Gangnam Style's success: symbols and simplicity bring recognition and appropriation.


Last element: lose control

This is the "scary element". Millions of entrepreneurs around the world regularly face this possibility and get scared about losing control.

Nevertheless, accepting sometimes to lose control over a specific aspect of your image can be beneficial.

I already mentioned this specific point in a previous article: "The art of a starting an epidemic" - I encourage you to read this article if you wish to develop this theory further.

What PSY did with Gangnam Style was to give up his copyrights for this specific song (still remains to clarify whether PSY really gave up his copyrights or simply decided not to run any legal action against those using his work). The result is incredible: within two weeks, over a thousand videos having the word "Gangnam" in their title have been uploaded on Youtube. If you consider the other video sharing platforms, the videos that might mention Gangnam Style without using its name, all the non-recorded shows... you quickly arrive to a huge result!

By taking this direction, PSY took a real risk: his video could have been mocked or used against him to tarnish his image. But the message he sent out was strong: I offer you this piece of work, it belongs to you, do whatever you want with it! In a world where infringing copyrights can lead you to jail, such an idea is usually well received by the people.

Here is the last element of Gangnam Style's success, and probably the most important one: the loss of control. As long as you keep control, it can't go viral.



From a simple buzz, Gangnam style became a trend.

Among the thousands of videos posted on the net after the launch of Gangnam Style, some are absolute proves of the importance of the phenomenon while others simply surf the wave to make the most profit out of it.


Gangnam style Eiffel tower



When a buzz is turned into flash mobs on some symbolic places around the world, it can truly be called a trend.

The Eiffel tower flash mob is an interesting example of how Korea can culturally invade Europe with just a little marketing effort.


Baby's meal


Here we got some other proof of the huge impact of the phenomenon. This young Asian dad can't feed his baby as this one refuses to eat without PSY! Even babies follow the trend!


Zombie Gangnam Style in Ocean Park



Last but not least, you have those who caught the opportunity.

Ocean Park is a very popular amusement park in Hong Kong as well as a really marketing driven company.

While Halloween was approaching - Ocean Park being famous for its monsters show - the park launched a zombie Gangnam style video. 610.000 Youtube hits later, the company can proudly look back and call it a buzz. Without any specific investment, the park surfed the trend and used it for its own profit. Very smart way to do promotion!



Multiplication effect

This is the extra bonus after a great success. Other songs from PSY suddenly become worldwide famous after his recent success.

Another of his songs, featuring Hyuna, climbed to the third position of Youtube most viewed music videos with 120 million visitors.

Hyuna herself can benefit from the Gangnam Style effect: one of her personal songs became second of the same chart with over 19 millions views.

All those "after effects" are just the benefits of a smart marketing strategy.


Now is your turn to see how you could adapt such strategies to your own personal situation. Keep in mind that even if you are not the one creating the buzz, you can always surf the wave and benefit from it!



Julien Rio.

Last update: 2024-06-14 Tags:

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