Four Lessons from “Harlem Shake”

Now that “Harlem Shake” fever has finally subsided, I think it’s instructive to ask what lessons are to be learned from the wildly popular song that created a cultural sensation. Was “Harlem Shake” just a fluke? Can its success be duplicated by someone else? As we’ve seen with just about every viral phenomenon, there is no sure-fire formula for success. But I believe “Harlem Shake” does show what can happen when an artist creates engaging content that taps into essential human wants and needs, such as our joy of dancing and social sharing.

1. There Are No Overnight Successes

The history of “Harlem Shake” is as intriguing as the phenomenon the song unleashed. For instance, did you know “Harlem Shake” had been a riding a tide of success for nearly a year before it exploded across the world?

Indeed, “Harlem Shake” began as a song recorded by American DJ Baauer and released for free by Mad Decent nearly one year ago.

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Baauer never created a video for the song nor encouraged anyone to do so. The 23-year-old Baauer posted the song itself online in 2012 “just to show people.” Throughout 2012, though, without the benefit of video airplay, the song gained a popular following in the dance world. Scottish DJ Rustie featured the song for BBC Radio 1 a year ago. Diplo and Skrillex played the song in their concerts. Through months of hard work and PR representation, Baauer was creating a steady success. Of course, in February 2013, when fan-created 30-second videos of “Harlem Shake” exploded across YouTube, the song became the Internet meme we all know today, literally all over the world — which is how “Harlem Shake” immediately became more than a dance hit.

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Ford: Crisis Management Done Right

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Corporations are fond of saying “Our people make a difference.” Sometimes your people make all the difference to your brand, as Ford has shown through the way it has weathered a painful and highly visible PR crisis.

As has been well documented by now, over the weekend, news outlets such as Buzzfeed and Business Insider got wind of offensive advertising mock-ups created to promote the Ford Figo in India. The various mock-ups, depicting women (including caricatures of the Kardashian sisters) bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford Figo, unleashed a firestorm of criticism.

If you’re Ford, what do you do? This is a situation where having the right people to represent your brand makes all the difference.

As reported by PR Daily, Ford quickly mobilized a global team over the weekend to address the problem. Facts needed to be gathered — and quickly. A response was required — and post-haste. And the company needed to strike the right tone however it replied. The right people needed to be on board to exercise judgment under tremendous pressure.

Here was an especially tricky challenge: Ford needed to tell its side of the story while at the same time not come across like the brand was trying to pooh-pooh the offensive ad mock-ups. As it turns out, Ford did have a story to tell: the brand was really the victim here, not the perpetrator. The ads were created without Ford’s consent by JWT India, a unit of Ford agency WPP. And, contrary to what Buzzfeed reported, the mock-ups were not ads — they were ideas (and obviously bad ones) that JWT India had unwisely posted on a public site.

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The New CEO Job Requirement: Social Media

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The sad results are in: 70 percent of all CEOs have no presence on social networks. And John Mackey of Whole Foods is the only CEO of a Fortune 500 firm who maintains his own blog — yeah, the same John Mackey who stepped in it by comparing Obamacare to facism in an interview with NPR. Hey: it’s time for CEOs to rethink their approach to social — or should I say get an approach since I doubt they think about social very much. Social media is a job requirement for the CEO.

In 2012, George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research (and an excellent blogger), delivered a presentation about why CEOs don’t use social media, and the reasons apply today: a general aversion to risk, lack of time, a generational bias against social, and the existence of regulatory constraints (as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently reminded us). Those constraints are understandable — but CEOs need to get over them. The fact is, CEOs need social media. Social helps CEOs better understand their market, their customers, their employees, and their own brands. Even better, social can help CEOs run their companies more effectively. An IBM study says that brands without social CEOs are less competitive, and according to Social Media Today, eight out of 10 employees want to work for social CEOs.

Recently, I sat down with Jermaine Dupri, to discuss how social media helps him be a better CEO of So So Def Recordings. As you might know, Dupri blew up the So So Def Recordings website and replaced it with his own social media community, Global 14. Dupri and I published the outcome of our conversation as a byline in Fast Company, available here. The byline discusses five ways social helps him run So So Def, an example being the way Global 14 gives him insight into up-and-coming musical talent. We also cite other CEOs who use social media effectively, such as Richard Branson, whose use of platforms like Twitter humanizes the Virgin brand.

If you are a CEO (or aspire to operate at that level), I hope our byline helps you embrace social, even if all you have time for is the occasional tweet. Just don’t blow off social.

5 Marketing Lessons from the 121212 Concert for Sandy Relief

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Rock concerts for causes have come a long way since George Harrison and Ravi Shankar organized the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and raised $250,000 to help refugees in war-torn Bangladesh. The Concert for Bangladesh was an untelevised rock show (actually two of them) witnessed by 40,000 people in Madison Square Garden. By contrast, last week’s 121212 Concert for Sandy Relief was a multimedia experience accessible to 2 billion people globally, earning $35 million in one night (with millions more to come). Here are five marketing lessons from the 121212 Concert:

1. Extend Your Reach

The 121212 Concert, which supported Robin Hood Relief (a highly regarded organization assisting Hurricane Sandy victims), made it virtually impossible for you to miss the show.  The concert was broadcast on 39 television stations, streamed to 25 websites, and aired on 50 radio stations, creating “the most widely distributed live musical event in history,” according to Nielsen. By contrast, even the highly successful 2001 Concert for New York City (which also benefited Robin Hood Relief) was broadcast on VH1 exclusively. If you wanted to watch the concert, they gave you no reason to miss it.

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PSFK Challenges Brands to Do Good

On November 1, I was honored to appear onstage with Jermaine Dupri at the PSFK  Conference San Francisco 2012, where we discussed how Dupri’s Global 14 social networking site brings community back to social media. The entire conference featured designers, creative thinkers, and marketers who shared innovative ways to operate businesses and build brands. The underlying theme was that brands should seize the opportunity to do good, not just make money.

All the speakers demonstrated different ways brands can do good. Jason Oberfest discussed how Mango Health uses a gaming app to help people manage their health. Scott Bradbury of Brandstream asked marketers to “find art in everything you do.” Dupri and Joe Gebbia of Airbnb challenged everyone at the conference to embrace real community. Airbnb, the online site where people rent their personal residences to each other, creates relationships, not just temporary lodging.

Global 14 helps emerging musicians develop their careers and creates an environment for all members to share ideas, not just social updates. (“We have lost communication on social networks and have become a social notifying world,” Dupri said.)

Regina Ellis of the Children’s Cancer Association delivered the most powerful presentation, which concerned the business of spreading joy. She opened her talk by describing the loss of her own daughter to cancer — an experience that Continue reading

Lady Gaga Ignites a Body Revolution

Lady Gaga is taking her clothes off to start a body revolution.

In response to news stories about her weight gain in recent weeks, Lady Gaga has taken matters into her own hands. On September 25, she posted unvarnished photos of her body on her Little Monsters social media site and encouraged community members to do the same. She calls the initiative A Body Revolution 2013. I believe Body Revolution is significant because the effort shows how a celebrity can use social media to make a powerful statement that transcends her art.

“Be brave and celebrate with us your ‘perceived flaws,’ as society tells us,” she wrote on her site when she launched Body Revolution. “May we make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous,” she added — as she revealed that she has suffered from bulemia and anorexia since she was 15 years old.

Body Revolution has generated an overwhelming response, with Little Monsters members from around the world posting photos of their bodies — warts, scars, cellulite, and all. The posts come with some compelling commentary. Here are some examples:

Some posts discuss eating disorders, such as this one from Sk3llingt0n, a 23-year-old Little Monster from France: “My body revolution, I’m sick, Anorexia and bulimia since 14YO, cut myself since same time…I find hope with Gaga. So hard to show my scars and my body.” Or this from Morphine Princess: “My own father calls me fat and stupid almost every day. I’ve had on-off eating disorders since I was 13 years old, I just want to feel comfortable with my body.”

The Body Revolution feels authentic — not a PR stunt — because Lady Gaga has always used her art and fame to celebrate individuality and self-acceptance. She is an active spokesperson for LGBT rights. Her Born This Way Foundation combats bullying and empowers youth. And, of course, she sings about self-acceptance in songs such as “Born This Way” (sample lyric: “Whether life’s disabilities/Left you outcast, bullied or teased/Rejoice and love yourself today/’Cause baby, you were born this way.”

Lady Gaga is neither the first nor the last artist to use her fame to support causes. However, her use of social media sets her apart. Here’s someone who is not only promoting self-acceptance but connecting like-minded people to each other.

But Body Revolution is not without its critics. In the September 27 The Guardian, freelance author Sady Doyle asserts that “The stunt reeks of selling acceptance to the insecure.”

Doyle writes, “I work for a web magazine aimed at teenage girls, and can confirm that descriptions of weight loss or body shape have to be looked over carefully, so as not to trigger anorexic or bulimic readers. Here’s one thing I don’t imagine is helpful to the eating disordered: submitting pictures of themselves to be judged by their favourite pop star.”

Moreover, in The Huffington Post (U.K. edition), fashion blogger Aimee Wood muses that the site might encourage people to accept obesity. “Obesity kills. Fact,” she writes. “Encouraging people to LOVE their bodies is great, but let’s not encourage people to NEGLECT their bodies. We need to take action. We need to realise WHY our bodies look like this and that there IS something we can do about it (in most cases) instead of just learning to live with it and get over it. We need to accept the fact that we CAN have flaws, but that we can also ACT against them. We need to encourage people to feel HAPPY with themselves but also and mainly to strive for what they really want (to look like) in life.”

But there’s one aspect of Body Revolution that you cannot appreciate unless you spend some time on the Little Monsters site: the peer commentary. Little Monsters can comment on each other’s posts, and Body Revolution content is no exception. Hence when one Little Monster posts a photo of her curvy body and admits to being nervous about her appearance, another member responds, ” . . . you have nothing to worry about, you are GORGEOUS.” When one member posts a photo of her scarred face, another responds, ” . . . if we met, I would want to hold your hand.” Lady Gaga is making the headlines, and rightfully so — but the real story is the community that carries the torch for the Body Revolution.

Lady Gaga: controversial. Loud. In your face. But most importantly of all, authentic. What do you think of A Body Revolution?

Apple Causes Panic in the First World

Apple is such a well-oiled machine that a rare misstep by one of the world’s most admired brands is front-page news. Consider Page 1 of the September 21 The Wall Street Journal: “Apple Makes a Wrong Turn as Users Blast Map Switch,” reports the WSJ breathlessly alongside an article about the U.S. presidential election and an analysis of the widely reported September 11 assault on the U.S. Libyan assembly. “Apple Makes a Wrong Turn” focuses on Apple’s decision to replace a Google Maps applications with an apparently less accurate Apple mapping software in the newest version of Apple’s OS operating software (iOS 6) for the iPhone. Yes, that’s right: a consumer uprising about mapping software on their iPhones receive the same level of attention as a discussion of a tragic assault that claimed lives and raises questions about U.S. security. Do our smartphones matter this much?

Hell, yes. Consider these stats from the TIME Wireless Issue:

  • Half of all Americans confess to sleeping next to our mobile phones.
  • About 65 percent of people around the world would prefer taking their mobile phones over their lunches to work if forced to choose.
  • Eight of out 10 people say they cannot go a single day without their mobile devices.

Meantime, one of out 10 people studied by Stanford say admit to feeling “fully addicted” to their iPhones. And evidently the overwhelming majority of iPhone users are emotionally dependent on Google Maps. When it became known that Apple iOS 6 swapped Google Maps software with Apple’s own, a firestorm of protest erupted. A new blog, The Amazing iOS 6 Maps, shares numerous inaccuracies in Apple’s mapping software, such as the disappearance of Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, and wrong names applied to streets and landmarks. CNET and The Huffington Post joined the groundswell of consumer complaints erupting across social media, including people protesting on Twitter.

To be sure, it’s important that consumers hold companies accountable for their mistakes, and it’s galling when powerful brands like Apple and Facebook foist changes upon us without first understanding what we want and need. But the Google Maps flap screams “First World Problem.” We buy our smartphones to enrich our lives, and instead our smartphones lead us around by our noses. Apple needs to fix inaccurate information in its mapping software, but meantime we might want to test another solution: ask a human being for directions.

Putting Community Back into Social Media

Jermaine Dupri and Global 14 have put community back into social media. That’s what I have to say in an interview conducted recently with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. But a community needs to be visible in order to thrive. Throughout the Q&A, I provide an update on how Dupri’s Global 14 social media community has grown in popularity and visibility through an innovative co-branding relationship that I manage at iCrossing. For instance, iCrossing and Dupri have collaborated on the co-creation of thought leadership and the launch of earned media activities. (Recently we worked together to introduce Global 14, which Dupri founded in 2011, to European and Latin American markets, as I noted in an iCrossing Great Finds blog post.)

Ultimately, what we’re doing is helping Dupri build a community of 37,000 people (and counting) who care about each other and share common interests ranging from sports to hip-hop. My main take-away: you might join Global 14 because of Dupri — but you’ll stay because of the people you meet. I have more than 700 Global 14 friends. I met all of them on Global 14 rather than importing those relationships from elsewhere. And I doubt I would have met my fellow Lifers (as Dupri refers to Global 14 members) had it not been for Global 14. Isn’t meeting new people and sharing with a community what social media is all about?

Why Your Brand Belongs on Instagram

Pinterest has become the go-to site for brands to tell their stories visually. But if your audience uses mobile devices, your brand belongs on Instagram, too. A new point of view, The CMO’s Guide to Instagram: Why Brands Must Be Visual to Gain Visibility, tells senior marketers how and why to make Instagram part of your arsenal of tools to share your brand.

In the PoV, my iCrossing colleagues Kashem Miah and Nick Burd discuss why brands such as General Electric, Burberry, and Starbucks have quickly embraced the popular photo sharing application to tell their brand stories via images of their products and people.

As Miah and Burd point out, Instagram’s easy photo editing function (turning mundane photos into stylish images) and its instant shareability have made Instagram the go-to choice for anyone with a smart phone and desire to share photos — akin to Pinterest for the 6 billion people around the world who are mobile.

It’s no wonder that more than 40 million Instagram accounts (including iCrossing’s) have been created since the application was launched in October 2010 — and why Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion.

“Instagram is creating an active community of visual storytellers, unlike any other social platform,” the authors assert.

The CMO’s Guide to Instagram includes best practices from brands such as Kate Spade NY and practical steps for getting your brand on Instagram. Is your brand on Instagram? Why or why not?

 

It All Started with an Oreo Cookie

It all started with an Oreo cookie.

This week the Kraft Oreo brand sparked a flurry of news media coverage and public discussion by posting a powerful Facebook image supporting Gay Pride Day. Now that Oreo has made a statement, will Kraft join the conversation?

The ad itself was simple, clever, and perfect for the Pinterest age: a gay-pride themed Oreo cookie accompanied by a post, “Proudly support love!”

Within days, the ad accumulated more than 280,000 Likes and 55,000 comments, ranging from supportive to critical — and the comments keep pouring in. For instance, on Friday afternoon as I wrote this post, Facebook member Jake Pisano commented on the Oreo wall, “I have a question. . .if being gay is so natural then why can’t 2 gays have a baby together hmmm i mean if it was something natural then shouldn’t they be able to have a baby.” Meantime, Facebooker Jocelyn Battisti wrote, “Oreo I bought some of your product yesterday just in sheer respect for your open support of equal love! I am a straight female who also supports equal love and I also am a huge fan of PROGRESS. KEEP IT UP!”

The comments exploded across the digital world, creating a firestorm of media coverage from publications such as ABC News, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. According to Radian6, as of June 27, the ad had sparked 11,600 mentions of the topic across the web (and no doubt the figure is hire by now.) For instance, Music Mogul (who is also my friend and business partner) Jermaine Dupri triggered a passionate conversation on his own Global 14 social community when he posted an image of the cookie and asked, “How do you feel about this? Some Global 14 members asked whether the ad might unwittingly segregate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. On the other hand, a Global 14 member nicknamed Crush wrote, “Why is this even news? It’s not that serious! I respect everyone’s opinion but I will be who the hell I want to . . .OREO COOKIE OR NOT! I am VERY GAY and VERY normal…”)

And in the grand spirit of user-generated content, consumers created their own images inspired by the ad:

Interestingly, Radian6 also reported that eight out of 10 of the comments made about the ad are positive with a disproportionate share of virulent remarks posted on the Oreo Facebook page — and suggesting that the media coverage overstates the controversy.

A Kraft spokesperson responded to the controversy by saying, “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values.”

I would like to see Kraft do more than make a statement. This kind of advertisement can do something very important, which is to invite people to take a closer look at how corporations like Kraft can enact change to make society more tolerant. Big brands can act as powerful agents of change through their statements and more importantly through their actions. AT&T and Disney are among the companies receiving perfect marks by the Human Rights Campaign for being LGBT-friendly based on a number of factors ranging from the nature of their domestic partner benefits to resources they provide for LGBT employees. (Kraft scores well but lacks a perfect score.) I see an opportunity for Kraft to lead a conversation now the ad has caught our attention.