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Harlem Shake proves that brands can use memes to their advantage

26th February 2013

It's rare that a brand comes up with their own take on an Internet meme that doesn't look like a dad dancing at a disco.

Indeed the world of social media is littered with examples of brands gate crashing the party where they're not welcome.

However, that has not been the case for the latest YouTube phenomenon and, in an unlikely moment of web-based inspiration, there has been a slew of great examples of corporates piggy-backing a trend for their own commercial purposes.

For those not familiar with the Harlem Shake, it all started with this ...

A perfectly pointless piece of japery that should likely have died with 16 views, rather than the 16 million it has clocked up. But it caught fire. And punters started creating their own takes on the film — mirroring the tune and the style, weird slow bit, fast mad bit, slow-mo finish.

And then the brands waded in. There is a handful of good examples, but my favourites are this offering from the army (with nearing 30 million views) ...

This from MCFC (with two million views at the time of writing) ...


And perhaps least likely of all, the Welsh Open Snooker ...


What do we learn here folks?

Pick your meme advisedly. Basically find out who is fuelling it and who is sharing it. If you're a brand disliked by either group, don't go there.

If you're going to meme-jump, do it in the style of the original. Be true to the theme — if the idiom is cheap and dirty, a polished ad agency production is unlikely to land. Likewise, if the context is polished and professional, your iPhone-shot attempt won't contribute to the theme.

If you're going to do it, commit wholeheartedly to the idea — do it properly or not at all.

Be fast. Not particularly because memes are over fast. But because if you're not out the blocks early, you risk looking like a fairly blatant opportunist, rather than an erstwhile "contributor".

Don't over-brand, but don't be afraid to sneak in a message or two. Simple as that really, see the snooker example above to see what I mean.

But most of all, accept that failure is an option. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And if your effort doesn't land the first time, don't take it as any indication that a future effort will suffer the same fate.

James Gordon-MacIntosh is a managing partner at Hope&Glory PR. He’s now working on a book – Ideas of the Year: an incomplete compendium of stunts, stories and japes. He’s looking for submissions, so if you’ve got work that should be included head here. There is still time …

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