Dance Fever Results in Viral Hits, Some Misses and a Lesson or Two for PR

In the 1984 movie "Footloose," a city teenager moves to a small town where rock music and dancing have been banned, and his rebellious spirit shakes up the populace. Today, not since Kevin Bacon riled up the locals has the act of dancing created so much public—and media—attention.

Let's take First Lady Michelle Obama's "Evolution of Mom Dancing" bit with Jimmy Fallon (which hit the airwaves Friday night) first. The video of the performance is a hit on YouTube, so far garnering 14.2 million views. In addition, the sketch has been repeated by numerous broadcast outlets.

Ms. Obama's second appearance with Fallon was a solid PR move, as the dance routine ably trumpeted the third anniversary of her “Let’s Move” children's fitness initiative. The First Lady's willingness to put herself and the White House in the public eye has been criticized, particularly when she announced the Best Picture winner during the Academy Awards. Yet her committment to causes—and to her husband—can't be questioned.

More problematic is the case of the "Harlem Shake," a dance that perhaps has been around a little too long. The Associated Press reported that up to 4,000 videos of "Harlem Shake" variations are loaded on the Internet daily. However, two of those uploads created crises for brands. The FAA is investigating a taped rendition of the dance that was recorded on a Frontier Airlines flight last week, prompting several thousand "Shake On a Plane" headlines. The airlines defended the dance, with a spokesperson saying,"Safety measures were followed and the seat belt sign was off."

Things worked out differently Down Under, as workers at the Agnew gold mine in Australia were fired and banned for life from every Barminco project in the world after performing the Harlem Shake, well below ground. Barminco considered the stunt a safety issue and a breach of its "core values of safety, integrity and excellence."

Two Harlem Shakes—two different responses. Frontier certainly comes off as more forgiving of its employees than Barminco. Yet Barminco showed it was serious about safety—maybe too serious. After all, there's a time when an organization just needs to "bring home the Bacon" and go with the viral flow.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

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About Scott Van Camp

Scott Van Camp is editor of PR News, an executive-level, reader-supported publication that helps enhance the business impact of PR. Scott has a rich background in both journalism and PR/marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer/editor at various consumer and trade publications. Scott was with VNU Business Publications for five years, including stints as managing editor at IQ News and Technology Marketing magazines and senior editor at Brandweek. In the PR/marketing sphere, he has served as corporate communications manager at MarketBridge, a marketing and sales consultancy, and as editorial director for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. While at the Council, Scott led several high-profile marketing research projects. He has also operated his own communications and media consulting firm, SVC Communications.

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