In 2017, Oxford University released a report on jobs most and least likely to be automated. It was bad news if you worked in data entry, watch repair or insurance underwriting but good news if you were a dentist, detective or choreographer. Of this latter group, most jobs were essential services, but in the ‘new normal’, choreographers are particularly vulnerable with performance spaces closed to the public. However, this has not reduced the societal need for dance, with Dance Challenge search interest up in the UK almost five-fold since mid-March. So, what is this need for dance, and how can this help us talk to consumers, especially under lockdown?
Dr Carla Walter, a marketing and entrepreneurship professor who just so happens to hold a PhD in Dance Studies, examined dance as advertising language; her principles can help understand this phenomenon. Dance, as a loose descriptor for ritualised movement (from the wedding, to the club, to the meme), creates a socially collective experience; the sense of integration of self into something larger. Here the TikTok challenge is a perfect example, in itself it is a collection of individuals expressing the same movement as a way of socially engaging under lockdown. But why dance here, rather than say song or speech? Walter suggests that the combination of affective, the somatovisceral communication – that dance makes you want to dance – and cognitive, the nonverbal communication – that dance means something – makes the process uniquely powerful.
Privileging the emotional over the linguistic, dance opens itself to interpretation in different contexts, extending its potential reach. Ghanaian dancing pallbearers have moved far from their own context to become a widely used meme in the past month. Indeed there seems to be a viral dance video for every moment; in lockdown, alongside Captain Tom and doughnut-ing Thames ferries, we find the dancing nurses. The ‘imagined freedom and fun’ that Walter suggests is embedded in dance as communication, is expressed through the bodies of the healthcare workers, the very bodies that they risk in service of the public. Their dancing expresses a powerful emotional message of hope that crosses ideological division embedded in speech.
If this hope, freedom and fun is valuable for the public right now, it is equally valuable for brands at a time when creative responses to the crisis have had a little homogeneity. Standing out could involve turning brand posture to dance, in a tradition including everything from the dancing iPod listeners to the ASDA ‘back pocket pat’. And maybe it could help to employ some of those choreographers.
Google Trends 6th May 2020