Is T-Mobile’s viral campaign a shining example of social media? Or is it a rip-off? Or both? I think these are fair questions in the wake of T-Mobile’s recently released commercial which features a crowd of 13,500 people singing the Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ in unison with celebrity vocalist Pink leading the way.
On the one hand, it really is an impressive commercial spot in terms of scale. They used over 2000 microphones and 40+ cameras to capture the event in a public venue. T-Mobile successfully used social media tools like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to bring awareness to the event, which is a genuine social media victory given the large turnout. The end result is a polished commercial concept that is successfully going viral on the internet and getting much attention from the frontlines of the social media crowd. But is this really what social media is all about? Is this what we should be pointing to when companies want examples of social media / viral marketing done right? I’m not so sure. If there is any social media brilliance in the T-Mobile ‘Hey Jude’ campaign it is in their use of social media to organize the large public gathering. But that is pretty much where the ‘social media’ aspect of this ends, and where the rip-off begins. This ‘sing-along’ concept was pioneered 30+ years ago by Coca-Cola. Do you remember that 1971 commercial? If you are 30+ years of age, I bet you do.
What makes the Coca-Cola spot so much more impressive than T-Mobile’s latest campaign is in the originality of the concept. Coca-Cola didn’t borrow a song from a world-famous band, nor did they hire a highly-paid celebrity to drive engagement and traction. Coca-Cola produced their own song ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ which was so original, catchy and effective that after the commerical aired it was re-produced into a stand-alone full-length single that reached #7 on the charts in the United States, #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. The best illustration of how vital the components of ‘originality and creativity’ are when measuring marketing success is evidenced by this live video…
That’s 10,000 people at an American Idol audition in Atlanta (2007) singing Coca-Cola’s song over 35 years after the commercial aired for the first time, and even more impressive is that the primary demographic attending that event were likely not even born when the original commercial was made. How much is that worth to Coca-Cola? Priceless. In my view, the best examples of any form of marketing, especially social media marketing, needs to have an element of originality to it. If you simply copy, borrow or outright steal concepts, you will never hit the same mark as the original, and more importantly, you will potentially lose the biggest benefit of social media marketing – timelessness.
Due to the saturation of brand messages in the marketplace, advertisers today should be trying to push the boundaries of aesthetics and originality more than they ever have. That is precisely what made something like the Eepy Bird – Diet Coke + Mentos viral videos such an incredible albeit accidental boon for Diet Coke and Mentos, or the Subservient Chicken campaign for Burger King. They were completely original concepts that will endure for decades. I’m quite certain if and when a large public gathering in the future spontaneously starts singing ‘Hey Jude’, it will have little to do with T-Mobile, and everything to do with a band called The Beatles.
I’m not disputing either claim. Apple being the lone legit player in online music distribution is probably just as concerning for the labels as piracy. But it’s ‘innovate or die’ – and the record industry seems to have made their choice.