Internet sensation, South Korean pop star Psy first released “Gangnam Style” in July of 2012. Unbeknownst to all, it would go on to viral like no video has gone viral before. How could a song with references very specific to Seoul culture later go on to become to most watched video in the world surpassing 1 billion views in December 2012. K-Pop has generally only been popular in its native country South Korea, but “Gangnam Style” has somehow broken the barrier and has gone above and beyond reaching Western countries and neighboring Asian countries alike. The K-Pop industry is not a new one; Psy’s song is not the first big K-Pop hit in South Korea. What steps did YG Entertainment and Psy take to create something that could be so universally appealing?

According to the Harvard Business Review, Psy did three things that set him apart. Make your product or brand more ownable.

Gangnam Style became such a significant cultural meme that its suffix “Style” could be easily rebranded and applied to different unrelated subjects. A grammar school in England made a similar video titled “Tad Gram Style”. Some felt compelled to create videos that were based off of the original and others felt compelled to watch them—to feel “in on the joke”, a win-win situation for both parties.
Be open-minded, but in a controlled way.

In an interview, Psy said that he stayed up late for more than a month trying to figure out the perfect dance for his music video. He sought advice from other industry experts in South Korea, looking for the best possible combination of moves. The others in the industry are knowledgeable, but are numbered. Other companies use a more open-ended strategy. Because of Twitter and other social media, consumer participation has become much easier in recent years—so easy, that companies often turn directly to their consumers to determine future strategy. Sometimes this leads to Lay’s company choosing the right flavor of chip to keep thanks to people voting on Twitter…sometimes this leads to internet trolls voting Rick Astley as MTV’s 2008 “Best Act Ever” when “RickRolling” was an extremely popular (and one of the first widespread!) internet memes.
Find an uncommonly-common emotional denominator that resonates across cultures.

What made Psy so likeable was how normal he seemed. No, he wasn’t a beautiful South Korean pop idol with manicured nails and freshly dyed blonde hair. He was just a sort-of-chubby, older, happy Korean guy! It made him relatable and approachable. Even though the video was explicitly made for South Korean listeners, it soon became popular in other countries. Who can ignore the hook? The first time I heard “hey…sexy lady!” I knew I was instantly hooked. The song featured just enough English to make it recognizable and the dancing was fun and easy for anyone to do.

Psy has proved that marketing is not dead! He has also proved that cross cultural marketing doesn’t have to be a cacophony of cultural adaptation and endless translation. A good, fun, new idea can catch the entire globe’s attention.

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