"Harlem Shake" is the meme of the moment, a seemingly spontaneous 30-second free-form group dance, often in costume, to the jarring rhythmic electronic sounds in a song by the same name. Venues have ranged from dorm rooms to airplane cabins, with marketers jumping on board in an attempt to cash in. To date, 145 brands have uploaded a video that mentions "Harlem Shake," according to Unmetric, a New York-based company that measures daily brand activity on social media.
Topping the list is Fox's "The Simpsons," with more than 22 million views since it was posted March 1. Other major players include a Pepsi version featuring race car driver Jeff Gordon, which has 5.5 million views, and Red Bull, whose video of skydivers doing the "Harlem Shake" is up to 4.7 million views.
Other brands haven't been as successful. Chicago-based Tootsie Roll Industries, for example, has about 300 views for its version, which features Dots candies doing the dance atop their familiar yellow boxes. A Tootsie Roll representative did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Lecinski cautioned against chasing "lightning in a bottle" by creating viral content in favor of strategic planning, but marketers at the YouTube event are pursuing both.
In addition to running pre-roll advertising, Madison, Wis.-based American Family Insurance created its own YouTube channel several years ago with "Stand Up For Family," drawing some 4 million views to date. It sponsored a live comedy show in Atlanta three years ago, chopped it up into small, digestible bits, and packaged it as a video series. There's a stage and screen logo throughout and a call to action at the end, instructing viewers to go to American Family's website for their insurance needs.
American Family repositioned itself with new creative in 2011, but at a budget of $94 million, spent a fraction of what Geico, State Farm, Allstate and Progressive did on measured media, according to Kantar Media. Creative use of YouTube is an integral part of American Family's marketing strategy, according to Telisa Yancy, director of advertising.
"I think the trick from a marketing standpoint is to do what is organic and natural and authentic for you as a company, and for your consumer," Yancy said. "You may not be in the market for insurance today, but you might be interested in some good family-centric comedy material, and perhaps that can help to build my brand presence and perception to you as a consumer."
Braun has also carved out a niche on YouTube with a channel featuring everything from polished commercials to demonstration videos on how to create edgy beard styles, drawing nearly 4.5 million views. But it was a well-executed parody video that put the channel on the map.
"We had someone make a viral video for us through a project," said Michael Leger, director of communications planning at Starcom MediaVest Group in Chicago, whose clients include Procter & Gamble's Braun shavers. "We never know if it's going to go viral. We just knew we really liked this video."
In October, Braun partnered with Tongal, a crowdsourcing creative site, offering $20,500 in prize money for the best video. Los Angeles-based director Mike Goubeaux won the competition, and a $10,000 prize, with a humorous 1:20 video called "Braun -- That's Tough." A lab testing parody, the video pulled in 2.1 million views before it was taken down at the end of December. While paid ads, including YouTube TrueView, accounted for the majority of the views, 40 percent came to the video through Internet word-of-mouth, according to Leger.
"We were very, very happy, as was the client," Leger said.
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