The Pros and Cons of a Viral Sensation


Jelena Pasic, Nenad Pasic and Emil Radoncic have been in the restaurant industry for years. After several previous projects, the trio teamed up and carefully developed a concept for a casual restaurant with a vintage feel and high quality burgers and shakes. Spending years planning out their new business and searching for the perfect piece of real estate, the group finally secured a golden plot on Lenox Avenue and 124th street. After months of renovations, menu development and hard work, the team is gearing up for their grand opening this Spring. Paying homage to the renowned local dance and a staple offering at the restaurant, the team trademarked their new business as “Harlem Shake” with the US Patent and Trademark Office on November 29, 2012.

The strategy they developed took into consideration a myriad of economic and operational factors, but none could have predicted that just before opening, a viral video sensation by the same name as the restaurant would become one of the most popular online videos of all time.

The Harlem Shake

Few who have accessed the Internet in the last 30 or so days have not seen a Harlem Shake video. These user-generated clips all have a similar theme; a single person dances alone (often wearing a costume) for roughly 15 seconds. The film then cuts to a large crowd (almost entirely costumed) dancing erratically for the second half of the video. These clips, apart from being hilarious, have been incredibly popular. YouTube estimates that in excess of 4,000 Harlem Shake videos are uploaded to their site per day. As of February 15th, over 40,000 videos had been uploaded and there have been a total of 175 million views.

Courtesy of YouTube.com

Jelena reports that in the days following the build-up of the viral video, their website (which only hosts an image with the text “Opening in Spring 2013”) received over 10,000 unique visitors per day. Slated to open in a few weeks, the group will be able to ride atop the public’s general awareness of the term at the very peak of its widespread diffusion.

In light of these recent events, it would seem that this new craze is free publicity, guaranteed to help the business have an outstanding start. However, there are outside marketing implications for this sensation.

Local Reaction to the Harlem Shake

The response, in general, of the Harlem community toward the new Harlem Shake videos has been negative. Some residents have even uploaded response videos retaliating against the February 2013 Harlem Shake craze. The original Harlem Shake dance was born in the early 1980s and over the years has been closely associated with the local community. Those retaliating against the video craze claim that the viral hits dilute the local connotations developed by the original dance. As part of the restaurant’s marketing campaign, the business is committed to developing a connection with the local community. To illustrate an appreciation and respect for local tradition, it will be important for the restaurant to disassociate itself from the new sensation.

Marketing Expenses

Major corporations have recognized the potential for brand awareness by associating themselves with the Harlem Shake viral videos. For instance, Pepsi released its own Harlem Shake video featuring professional driver Jeff Gordon and his NASCAR crew that has generated over 5.5 million views. Accordingly, with large organizations competing for Google advertising space on the high-search-traffic keywords “Harlem Shake,” advertising costs have quickly increased. If the Harlem Shake restaurant wanted to market itself using these key words, the price would be substantially higher than if they had budgeted for a campaign before the beginning of February. The influx of videos, blogs, forum discussions and news articles related to the new video has also caused a re-indexing of the term on search engines. Searching for “Harlem Shake” on Google does not yield any information about the restaurant for the first 5 pages of results.

Moving Forward

In the coming weeks before the restaurant opens, apart from managing the myriad of tasks that need to be completed before launching any new business, Harlem Shake will have 3 objectives related to this online phenomenon:

  • Capitalize on the heightened overall awareness of the term “Harlem Shake” as a result of this video.
  • Carefully brand the business to associate with the local Harlem community, its foundation of repeat clientele.
  • Strategically develop its online marketing to avoid competing with major corporations now focused on the “Harlem Shake” search term.

Reprinted by permission.

The Lawrence N. Field Center / Baruch Small Business Development Center provides resources to NYC entrepreneurs no matter their stage of business or industry. Visit the center’s website for information on free 1-on-1 counseling sessions and seminars ranging across business sectors.

About the author: Alek Marfisi

Alek Marfisi is a Business Advisor of Baruch Small Business Development Center.

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