You know, folks, sometimes “viral” can be really beautiful.
I’m sure many of you have already heard about Matt Harding’s “Dancing” video sensation. More than 4 million people have viewed his latest release on YouTube and, according to the New York Times, at least another million have watched it on other sites in the two weeks since it first appeared. It has also spawned unprecedented media coverage around the world.
The video consists of Harding dancing a rather silly dance in 69 different locations, including India, Kuwait, Bhutan, Tonga, Timbuktu, the Korean DMZ and, at the 3:22 mark, in my hometown of Atlanta. This is a beautiful piece of Internet art; I defy you to watch and not smile as your heart fills to the brim with global goodness. (article continues below)
The current video is actually the third installment of a project that began in 2003, when a friend filmed Mr. Harding doing his dance in Hanoi where he worked designing video games. The whole thing blossomed from there as Harding soon discovered he really didn’t like working a 9 to 5. So, he took the money he’d saved and embarked on a trip around the world where he performed his little dance in various cities as a way to show his travels to friends and family back home. As I always say, it only takes one good blog to launch a campaign…soon a blogger got a hold of his first video and then another and another. The next thing he knew, he was an Internet sensation, even before YouTube made such a thing commonplace. (Harding told his story in this great clip posted last year).
Soon after that first video, the Stride Chewing Gum Company offered to underwrite Harding’s subsequent travels with virtually no strings attached. While I don’t quite get the connection between Stride and Harding’s delightful global jig, this is one case where I’m not entirely sure that matters. In fact, it is the lack of brand connection and product promotion that makes the tie-in work. As the NY Times points out “the company is acknowledged at the very end, but amazingly, in this era of shameless commercial tie-ins, Mr. Harding is not obliged to wear a Stride T-shirt or deliver a little pitch for the product.”
Had there been a more blatant promotion, there is no way this vid would convey the magic that it does; the fact that Stride kept the artistic integrity of the original global project has brought them extensive praise. Again, to pull from the NY Times article: “you can’t watch “Dancing” for very long without feeling a little happier. The music … is both catchy and haunting. The backgrounds are often quite beautiful. And there is something sweetly touching and uplifting about the spectacle of all these different nationalities, people of almost every age and color, dancing along with an uninhibited doofus.”
Of course, the real question is: did it work? Harding’s 2006 video saw more than 10 million views and delivered major spikes in web site traffic for Stride Gum, plus a reported 8% increase in sales, not to mention global media coverage and brand awareness. Today, Stride has become the 5th best-selling brand in the sugarless gum category, up from 6th place in in 2007, when it tallied sales of $65 million, according to IRI. Prior to its relationship with Harding, Stride didn’t even register on IRI’s list of 20 top-selling brands. Clearly, the goofy dance is moving the needle.
So, I say congrats to Harding and Stride for proving that viral can indeed be beautiful, tasteful, remarkably subtle, and highly effective.
BRIEF UPDATE: Check out the Stride Gum site for some great outtakes that didn’t make the cut. Some are beautiful, others are hilarious!