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.  Through months of renovation, menu development, and hard work, the team is gearing up for their grand opening in mid-March.   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.

Years in the making, the strategy they developed took into consideration a myriad of economic and operational factors, but none could have predicted that just one month 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 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 through the remaining 15 seconds of the film.  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 have been uploaded and received 175 million views.


 For Jelena and Emil, this unexpected turn of events has been beneficent to their new business.  Slated to open in 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.  Jelena reports that in the days following the build-up of the viral video, their website (which only hosts an image with the text “Coming Soon”) received over 10,000 unique visitors per day.

In light of these recent events, on the surface it would seem that this 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.  The original dance titled “Harlem Shake” was born in the early 1980s and over the years has been closely associated with the local community.  This new video dilutes the local connotations developed by the original dance.  In particular, local residents have uploaded “response” videos retaliating against the February 2013 Harlem Shake craze.  As part of the restaurant’s marketing campaign, the business is committed to developing a connection with the local community.   It will be important for the restaurant to demonstrate its commitment to local tradition and disassociate itself from the new video sensation.

Marketing Expenses:

Major corporations have recognized the potential for brand awareness by associating themselves with the Harlem Shake viral video.  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 keyword “Harlem Shake”, advertising costs have increased precipitously.  If the Harlem Shake restaurant wanted to market to these key words, the cost would be substantially higher than if they budgeted a campaign before the beginning of February.  Secondarily, the influx of videos, blogs, forum discussions, and news articles related to the new Harlem Shake video has caused a re-indexing of the term on search engines.  Searching for the term “Harlem Shake” on Google does not yield any information on 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 opening any new business, Harlem Shake will have three imperatives related to this online phenomenon:

  • Capitalize upon 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 strategy to avoid competing with major corporations now focused on the “Harlem Shake” search term.
Alek Marfisi, Business Advisor, Baruch SBDC

Alek Marfisi