Having trained in classical ballet from the age of three until I left for college, I have developed a deep fondness and respect for the elegance, athleticism, passion and discipline involved in the art of dance. As such, I can’t help but take note when ballet dancers appear on social media.
The rise of social media has opened doors for artists to infinitely expand their reach, delivering quality creative content on widely public platforms and creating audiences that would not have otherwise existed. It has also enabled the kind of advertising and marketing content that once appeared only on cable TV or billboards to go viral, multiplying impressions and reducing the need for companies to exhaust their ad budgets on the aforementioned mediums. While dance may seem like a very niche subject, the ballerinas occupying our news feeds these days offer relevant takeaways regarding businesses’ uses of social media.
Exhibit A: The Ballerina Project
For fourteen years now, NYC-based photographer Dane Shitagi has dedicated his ongoing photo series to showcasing the strength and soul of the country’s professional ballet dancers. As social media materialized, Shitagi adopted all platforms through which he could exhibit this project, which now maintains a following on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. The Ballerina Project currently boasts one of the largest audiences of the world’s ballet-related Facebook pages, and its more recent upsurge of Instagram popularity has garnered a good deal of positive press over this past year.
Of course, other photographers and artists can benefit from Shitagi’s comprehensive social media strategy. But the Ballerina Project success story also demonstrates how social media creates opportunities for effective business collaboration. As the project’s social following took off, retail apparel brands began to team up with Shitagi, outfitting the ballerinas in his photos for the purpose of social media marketing. Activewear and high fashion labels alike appear in @mentions and hashtags of Instagrams in which stunning ballerinas don their brands’ clothing. And let’s not forget the exposure that these professional dancers gain from the series, their personal accounts tagged to pictures that broadcast their talent. With the Ballerina Project, social media has encouraged the worlds of photography, dance, and fashion to collide for a mutually beneficial, effective marketing effort.
Exhibit B: Misty Copeland for Under Armour
Anyone clued into the ballet world has heard of Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theater soloist. At the below-average height of 5’2”, and having begun ballet at the above-average age of 13, Copeland has an inspiringly unlikely success story—one on which Under Armour has now capitalized for its #IWILLWHATIWANT campaign. This past summer, UA released Copeland’s first commercial spot, which includes a voice-over reading of a ballet school rejection letter that Copeland actually received as a girl. Copeland’s UA sportswear provides limited coverage, allowing the camera work to highlight her insanely toned physique while she dances with the utmost power and athleticism against the defeating conclusion of the voice-over.
Sharing and discussion of the Copeland spot on social media outlets have since brought widespread attention to UA’s female-targeted campaign, which includes its own social web page for women to follow elite athletes and to connect with each other—the “I Will What I Want” fitness community has now amassed upwards of 88,000 followers. The ad, with its tone of female empowerment, also takes a strategic jab at athletic wear competitor Lululemon, which suffered a PR nightmare last year after its CEO blamed women’s body types for the sheerness and pilling problems customers found with the brand’s yoga pants. Ultimately, Under Armour understood that a powerful video clip is inherently suited for viral sharing, and after signing the right endorser and developing the right message at the right time, let social media pull the marketing weight.
Exhibit C: Free People’s Flub
While Under Armour understood how to steer the rampant nature of social media in its favor, Free People let it spark a disastrous domino effect with a parody-bound video. In May, FP published an ad on its YouTube channel to market a new dancewear collection. The ad shows a pretty and thin young woman dancing around on pointe shoes, dressed in the line’s stylish warm-ups, voice-over narrating her passion for ballet. The problem? Free People hired a model to pose as a ballet dancer, outraging their target consumers.
The model’s lack of technique or training is so horrifyingly apparent that even a non-dancer would probably find it laughable, and according to the storm of angry YouTube comments, people with dance experience took major offense to Free People’s lazy casting decision. Much of the discussion on social media involved concern about the dangers of dancing on pointe without proper training, as the camera work in the ad focuses on the model’s weak, sickled ankles.
(Screenshots courtesy of this en-pointe buzzfeed post).
All and all, Free People’s poor marketing effort provided social media users, including world-class dancers, with plenty of ammo to publicly roast the brand. Parody videos sprung up on YouTube as part of the backlash, and a beautiful short film published on Vimeo demonstrates exactly what the FP ad should have looked like. Free People proved that social media has the multiplying power to make or break a marketing campaign; a company must understand and cater to its audience if it doesn’t want to suffer the latter result.