By now you’ve probably seen Matt Harding‘s videos of himself dancing around the world. The Where The Hell Is Matt videos are the very definition of a viral video and they illustrate how you can’t just make a video go viral out of thin air. This is the most recent video:
[A MINNESOTA ASIDE: The song for this video is called Praan and it is written by Garry Schyman but sung by a 17-year-old Minneapolis student named Palbasha Siddique.]
According to his Web site, Matt Harding began traveling around Asia in 2003. He created his Web site WhereTheHellIsMatt.com to keep friends and family informed about his travels. He shot video of himself doing his dance during this trip:
In 2005, the video was found and passed around online and thus became viral. The video became so popular that it got the attention of Stride gum; the powers that be at Stride subsidized a second trip for Matt to shoot videos of his dance.
The second video became even more popular; his inbox was soon flooded with emails from people around the world who had seen his videos. Harding asked Stride to pay for another trip only this time he’d invite the people who had emailed him to come out and dance with him as well. With that, the third, and most recent video was born.
Harding has uploaded 21 videos to YouTube and they have been viewed more than 30 million times. His YouTube channel boasts more than 31,000 subscribers. His is the 88th most subscribed channel of all time on YouTube and the 78th most viewed.
His first dancing video has been viewed more than 1.4 million times since he uploaded it in 2005; the second dancing video has been viewed more than 12 million times since 2006; and his most recent video has been viewed more than 14 million times during the five months it’s been on YouTube. The search traffic for his videos follows a similar trend, gaining more popularity with each subsequent video.
You’ll notice, too, that the each video produces a spike in search traffic but the continuous volume of search traffic remains at a higher level after each video is initially released. Thus, an Internet star is made and Stride gum have hitched themselves to this star in the most deft manner possible. You only know that Stride is sponsoring the videos through the final credits. It is through Matt himself via his Web site that we learn that Stride is paying for his trips; and we’re grateful for that because the videos are so awesome.
But none of this explains why his videos are so popular, why they went viral.
Clearly, the videos are compelling enough to ignite word-of-mouth chatter and pass-along value. They tapped into a world wide cultural zeitgeist. But what’s so compelling about a guy doing a dorky dance over and over again around the world?
This is entirely subjective, but my take is that Harding’s videos supplied something the for which the world hungered: Joy. After seven years of global crisis filled with terrorism, war and fear, people the world over are eager for joy, for a demonstration that people from different cultures, countries, and world views can come together and cooperate for something positive, even if it’s only to dance.
In the most recent video, Matt Harding brought joy to even the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, a location President Clinton called the most dangerous place on the face of the earth.
The marketing lessons here are 1) that you’ll be hyper lucky to “create” viral video success; it’s something that happens naturally, and 2) use a light touch if you’re going to hitch your wagon to an existing viral video.
The lesson for us all, though, is bigger: Listen closely. I have long preached that you should listen to the artists because they will give you a glimpse of the future. Artists seemed especially attuned to divining our cultural future.
But listen too to the Internet. In 2005, Matt Harding, whether he knew it at the time or not, began to get some indication of what the world hungered for with the response to his video and through the wonder of YouTube, so could we.