This is a tale of brands and viral videos and dancing…
Do you know Matt Harding? If you do, it probably wasn’t until after he started dancing in famous places across the world, as captured by YouTube videos. Videos that you can’t help but smile at because they focus on the joyful act of dancing, with an unusual twist. I recently had the privilege to meet Matt and hear his story – and it’s a story all brands who tout their need for a “viral video” should heed.
Matt was traveling with a friend in 2005, when digital video had just become mainstream available via handheld recorders and phones. When he was standing in front of a famous monument, his friend said “Why don’t you do that silly dance you do in front of that?” Matt did, the friend recorded it, and together they proceeded to do this at every major stop. Matt then put the video on his own website. A little while later, Matt got a call from his friend saying “Your video is on YouTube.” Matt replied, “What’s YouTube?” (Imagine saying that today?) He proceeded to go to YouTube, find his video, and see that he had 600,000 views. That’s a lot today — let alone back then — and the next thing he knew, he got a call from Cadbury Schweppes’ brand, Stride Gum.
"They told me they wanted me to do what I did on the video," Matt recalls. "I said, ‘You want to pay me to travel around the world and dance? Ok!" According to Matt, he went to their corporate office with a carefully thought out plan of where he wanted to travel and why — expecting scrutiny, lots of rules, and more. Basically, he was told to do what he wants as long is it was done in time. BRAND POINT #1: The brand recognized that Matt’s original video had something that appealed to people, naturally. Rather than try to shoehorn that “Mattness” into something more “Stride Gum-like,” they let him be authentic. Lots of brands talk about authenticity, but how many actually execute that way?
In addition to be pleasantly surprised by the client’s lack of overt control, Matt was shocked that he wasn’t asked to bring the product into the experience. Watch the video. He’s not wearing Stride Gum swag; there are no Stride Gum signs; he’s not even chewing any gum! At the end of the video, text informs you that the video exists courtesy of Stride Gum. Knowledge you gain a time when you are already smiling. And that may just telegraph that happy emotion onto the Stride Gum brand. BRAND POINT #2: The brand did not force unnatural product references down the viewers’ collective throat. Many times, that “integration” interferes with the experience. Here, viewers didn’t even know it was a brand-sponsored video until the modest end-of-video reveal. That feels pretty nice to a consumer. Take a look, sound on, and feet on the floor (just in case…).
This virtually unbranded, brand-sponsored video has almost 19 million views and counting. It continues to live on long after the launch, because it is relevant: it makes people feel good. (Brand Point #3: Be relevant beyond the short term.) But Matt’s brand-sponsored career doesn’t end here.
This video was seen as so special, both to people and to the brand that had sponsored it, that is caught the eye of Visa. The credit card giant picked Matt up to do a commercial that began running internationally in 2008…and six years later is still on air. Not too many commercials have that sort of staying power, but as Visa was quick to recognize, Matt has something special here. So while they did brand their spot more than the Stride Gum video (this is, after all, an actual commercial), they are reaching millions of people each year with Matt’s own brand of happiness.
It’s interesting to note how Matt’s videos have evolved…and how they have impacted his viewers. His initial video focused simply on Matt dancing in front of landmarks. As you watch the progression of videos, he starts bringing in other people, and the videos become less about the places he is visiting and more about the people residing in those places. He also trades out his signature dance at times in favor of the cultural dance going on around him. Matt says this happened organically — at one point he was dancing and a bunch of kids simply ran over to start dancing with him. Brand Point #5: recognize when divine providence is giving you an opportunity and jump on it. Matt immediately understood that adding other happy people from the places he was visiting humanized the experience…and increased the happiness factor.
The video in which Matt pushes his own personal brand the furthest is the video that is purely his vision, sans sponsors. Matt chose to finance his own video and visit places that sponsors had forbidden. Places like North Korea, Moscow, Syria. Why? He wanted to show that the world is full of great people everywhere who want to be happy — and dispel what he feels is a myth: that the world is a scary place to visit. And his bravery has been rewarded. (Brand Point #6: Be brave.) With millions of views (one video has over 47 million), the ads on those videos have more than compensated the dancing video star for his out-of-pocket expenses – and the videos have brought value to the viewers: by providing a different type of peek into foreign cultures, we are all connected a little bit more, via the universal language of dance.
I hope this blog post captures even a tiny amount of the joy I felt meeting Matt and hearing his story. And I hope your brand is able to help your customers feel more joy by being in their lives!
~ Denise Blasevick, @Advertgirl & CEO, The S3 Agency — seen here dancing with Matt Harding at MIT