PSY-chosis: K-Pop can Teach Marketers how to go Viral


Many would think, after the worldwide popularity of Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, that Korean pop music (or better known as K-Pop) is only a new trend in the global music scene. It actually roots back to the early 1900’s when Western culture penetrated Korea after the partition of the North and South peninsula. The first known K-Pop album came out in 1925 and the genre became more widespread when the Americans arrived.

However, it is only until recently that the so-called Korean Invasion (as a homage to the 60’s British Invasion) has grown immense fame. Since 2009, a barrage of Korean artists, usually presented as groups of 3 or more members, began conquering global charts and their songs started to become part of the modern music landscape.

It’s a phenomenon that leaves people asking how, despite of the language barrier and the apparent lack of artistry in music making, do these songs capture the heart of the public across all cultures?

The answer is viral marketing.

When you first hear K-Pop songs, you don’t immediately like them, compared to American and British pop songs. First of all, it’s hard to sing-along (unless you know Korean), and second, they are generally dance tunes with singular and repetitive melodies. But despite this, the industry was able to market them internationally through constant media exposure and viral stretching.

What made it work?

Uniqueness. Even without hearing the words, you’d know right away if a song is K-Pop because of its flashy beats and digital noise. It’s a common formula that they use in virtually all of their songs (even their music video structures are formulaic). Having their own “identity” and believing in their own native talent makes it easy to market them.

Power of the web and social media. Even if the song is not your taste, you would be surprised by how you ended up liking it because of constant media exposure. If you can hear it practically everywhere and see everybody, including famous people, dancing to it, your memory has no choice but to embrace it. That’s viral marketing at its best.

Multi-weapons. It’s almost a pre-requisite for K-Pop artists to dance while they sing, and look stunningly attractive at the same time. They attack on all angles, and watching their music videos is like a blinding showcase of their abilities. In spreading content about a product, marketers should learn to highlight all the strengths in a single-performance to make a lasting impact.

Grabbing the momentum. When streams of K-Pop songs took center stage, everybody else jumped in the bandwagon. Eventually you could see Korean groups left and right, and there seems to be no sign of stopping in the near future. Similarly, marketers must take advantage of a positive trend while it’s still there. You never know when it would last, so relish the glory and make it count.