‘Pink Glove’ video sensation raises awareness, hits legal snag

When the ‘pink-glove dance’ went viral, misinformation and potential legal action eclipsed the elation.

When the ‘pink-glove dance’ went viral, misinformation and potential legal action eclipsed the elation

When your promotional video goes viral, that’s great news, right? Well, not always.

If there is attendant misinformation or copyright issues—or both—then what you have is a PR wildfire.

Case in point: When the staff at Medline posted a YouTube video of staffers at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center dancing for breast cancer awareness to singer Jay Sean’s song, “Down,” they thought they’d be lucky to get 1,000 views.

A year and nearly 12 million views later, the health care supply company has a genuine phenomenon on its hands with the Pink Glove Dance. Medline itself has visited more than a dozen other cities to film follow-up videos with health care professionals and cancer survivors.

Other hospitals have picked up on the idea, too, posting their own versions of the video. Some continue to focus on breast cancer. Other versions maintain the spirit of the original video while switching topics to concerns such as hand washing.

But the video’s runaway success led to concerns about song rights and some false information about donations being tied to the video’s view count.

Communicators at Medline and the hospital had to respond quickly, or sometimes just hope for the best.

“You can only take it so far before it sort of gets thrown out there into the ocean and you just cannot control it anymore,” Emily Somers, a product manager at Medline and one of the video’s creators, said at a social media summit hosted by Ragan Communications and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., in September.

Creating the video, seeing the response

The idea for the video came soon after Medline introduced a line of pink latex gloves designed to promote breast cancer awareness, Somers said. After people began sending in pictures of themselves with the pink gloves, Somers decided a video of dancing, pink-gloved health care workers would bring even more attention to the product and the issue.

She was soon in contact with Providence St. Vincent, in Portland, Ore., whose chief nursing officer said she’d be happy for Medline to come, as her own mother had been battling breast cancer.

Staffers initially were shy to do their dance moves for the camera, Somers said, but soon the spirit overtook them. “There was something infectious about [how] once everyone saw everyone else join in for the cause, they couldn’t help themselves,” she said.

The video launched Nov. 13, 2009. By Thanksgiving, it had 1 million views.

That explosion in popularity came in part from hospital employees alerting friends, one of whom was actor Peter Facinelli of the Twilight films, who tweeted a link to the video to his more than 1 million followers. ABC News featured the video in a World News Tonight segment. And an e-mail promoting the video sent by Somers’s mother-in-law to friends and family reached all across the globe.

But it also caused a problem.

Rumors and song rights

The ever-spreading e-mail ended with this paragraph:

“When the video gets to 1 million hits, Medline will be making a contribution to the hospital, as well as offering free mammograms for the community. Please check it out. It’s an easy and great way to donate to a wonderful cause, and who hasn’t been touched by breast cancer?”

The only problem? There was no plan for Medline to make any contributions based on the number of views, though a portion of the proceeds from sales of the pink gloves does go toward breast cancer research and the company makes an annual contribution to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Mitch Turpen, the hospital’s interactive marketing manager, said that had people wondering, “When we hit 1 million, what’s going to happen with this rumor?”

To head off the problem, Medline worked with rumor-quashing site Snopes.com to let people know there was no views/donation tie.

Using the third-party, accredited source was an effective way to deal with the rumor, Turpen said. “It wasn’t just us saying, ‘That was a lie,'” he said.
Staffers at Medline were also a little concerned when the video exploded, because they hadn’t gone through any process of securing the rights to the Jay Sean song.

“It never really occurred to us,” Somers said. “Looking back, we should have done that. You never know what’s going to happen.”

But the makers of the pink-glove video were lucky. Jay Sean embraced the video. He left a supportive comment on YouTube and even had 17,000 concertgoers at a Chicago show wear the pink gloves when he performed the song.

Through the YouTube account, Jay Sean’s record label did claim the music in the video, Turpen said, which could have led to them stripping it out. Luckily, the claim just led to ads for the song and ringtone downloads.

But Medline didn’t want to walk that line again. In their follow-up videos, they used an original song performed by Somers and her sister.

Calculating the value

Though the cost of the video was “very, very minimal,” Somers said, the value to Medline and Providence St. Vincent has been immense.

Turpen said the video was worth about $11 million in earned media value and about $33 million in publicity value, according to the hospital’s calculations. “The value from this is more than we ever could have imagined,” he said.

Moreover, the Pink Glove Dance is now something of an industry unto itself. There’s a Facebook page, and the dance has a huge presence in Medline’s Twitter feed. It’s the basis for reminder e-mails for women to get mammograms and has led to at least 29 documented breast cancer research donations averaging $144, according to Medline.

All of which has led Somers to tout originality, honesty and emotion in creating videos that could become viral.

“Don’t ever pass up on an idea you think might be silly,” she said.

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