Viral for a Cause

Few people understand why Korean pop star PSY’s Gangnam Style video has taken off in the US. Fewer still know the meaning behind the song that has become an international sensation with 100 million views on YouTube.

Popular for its ridiculous dancing, which PSY describes as “Dress classy, dance cheesy,” the video also provides commentary on economic inequality in Korea.

Power, privilege, and money all lie in the heart of one district in Korea: Gangnam. Forty percent of Seoul’s registered assets were concentrated in the district.  To properly understand its power, imagine combining Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood together in a place with strong government investment. In 2010, Gangnam’s education budget was more than 8 times the budget of a relatively poor district.  With an income gap in Korea that has doubled since 2010 and continues to grow, Gangnam has become a symbol of the Korean “1%.”

In the video PSY uses humor to lampoon the wealthy area. For instance, in the song he longs for a girl who “can afford to drink coffee.” One blogger explains:

“I think some of you may be wondering why he’s making such a big deal out of coffee, but it’s not your ordinary coffee. In Korea, there’s a joke poking fun at women who eat 2,000-won (about $2) ramen for lunch and then spend 6,000 won on Starbucks coffee.”

“[The video is] a satire about Gangnam itself but also it’s about how people outside Gangnam pursue their dream to be one of those Gangnam residents without even realizing what it really means,”

So what can we learn from Gangnam Style (beyond a hilarious dance move to add to our repertoire)?

Humor is king

As cartoonist Liza Donnelly said in her TED Talk on humor for social change, “Humor relies on the traditions of a society. It takes what we know and it twists it. “  Humor can be a great way to address social inequity and stereotypes like this Stop the Pity campaign:

Weird is In

Viral videos often rely on the strange and shock value.  “That was awesome. I don’t know why, but that was awesome,” a character on Saturday Night Live exclaimed after seeing Gangnam Style for the first time. This video protesting bike fines shows sometimes a dose of the unexpected is exactly what you need to get your point across:

Encourage Participation

Pop singers have long been aware of the way a dance can sell a song. How many nights have you danced to the Macarena, the Hustle or the Cupid Shuffle? Dances encourage participation in a song. That participation is also the key to making a viral video according to Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s trends manager. Gangnam Style is ripe for making parodies and spin offs which allows users to be part of the experience.  Similarly, the Pink Glove Dance even has a YouTube competition to encourage users to make riffs off of their video:

Has your organization used video to promote your cause? What has worked for you?

Posted by: Robyn Stegman

Project Specialist