The internet is full of viral fad after viral fad. It is a reflection of the Millennial Era where everyone wants everything and we want it yesterday. Naturally, once we have it we’re over it, and hungry for the next fad. Even when it is glaringly obvious to all of us that this will only last 10 minutes (15 minutes is TOO long), we still hungrily eat up all the cheeky goodness of said viral fad. Gangnam style anyone?
Either way, it seems that today’s viral fad of the month is the “Harlem Shake”. Pardon me while the urban child of my youth was confused that this was even considered new. (see: Bad Boy Entertainment circa 2001)
Harlem Shake 2013:
1) Funky techno song, person dancing in a thrusting manner while additional bystanders (if there are any) seem oblivious
2) “Harlem Shake” lyric drops along with the beat and then…
3) All bystanders (if there were none previously, there are a bunch now!) join into the party and dance like crazy.
See an ABCNews article on the original and it’s various spinoffs here.
So what does this have to do with Brand Flexibility? I had no idea that this Harlem Shake thing was even a “thing” until I saw the Pepsi ad.
Upon doing my research I saw that Pepsi was rushing in to be a part of today’s fad. As a marketer this amazed me! Just like the similar Oreo story, I find it delicious (see what I did there?) when brands set themselves up to be flexible. In today’s fast-paced, ever changing consumer marketplace staying relevant is as easy as convincing a bunch of unemployed teenagers to purchase headphones for $300! Well that’s a bad example, because apparently that’s pretty easy. (I admit, I’m so uncool with my $20 earbuds) The point is, relevance is hard, harder still when what’s relevant today is forgotten tomorrow.
Forbes Magazine has an article that lays out the 10 Brand Marketing Trends That Should Dominate 2013, and I think that it’s a great quick list. Number 3 on that list is Brand Flexibility. Brand Flexibility could also be called Brand Evolution, recognizing that brands have to be constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of the consumer. That’s what marketing does right? Find new and innovative ways to meet consumer’s unmet and even unarticulated needs.
It’s not easy. Brands cannot have huge “war room” staffs in the office every day chomping at the bits for the next YouTube video to hit 1 million hits in an hour. Instead brands have to be flexible and willing to take risks (when possible). Know what levers you can pull in an instant that will jettison your brand into today’s relevancy. The problem is that it cannot be forced. What makes these things work is that it’s genuine. Oreo could never have imagined that the lights would go out, and brands like Pepsi won’t be successful in creating the next “Gangnam style” or “Harlem Shake”. But by being flexible they can be in the right place at the right time when that next big thing happens.
The bad news is that this can be quite expensive. Being creative at the drop of a dime and then being able to execute quickly against an unforgiving social media environment takes guts and dollars. Not to mention that you have to keep your legal team on board and all other cross-functionals designed to keep your brand out of hot water should things backfire.
But it can also be worth it. Brands that are flexible and move with the times stay relevant and have longevity. Consumers are changing and so should your brand. Occasionally being a “classic” brand and doing things the “old fashioned” way is what makes your brand great. In that case, carry on! My advice though: even then, never take your eyes off the horizon.