PARIS (Reuters) - If you’re French, under 20, and have a broadband Internet connection, you probably already know what to make of the spiked hair, skinny pants, and electric dance moves pulsing in cyberspace.
It started with a dance called Tecktonik — a mix of punk, techno, break and disco — born in clubs and spread by word-of-mouth between fans on video-sharing sites. But the youth movement it spawned is also a burgeoning business and a model for branding on the Web.
Now a registered trademark — with 33,800 related videos on offer at www.youtube.com — Tecktonik has gone beyond sharing music and moves to sell hairstyles, merchandise, and an ethos of tolerance to post-adolescents: it’s a lifestyle brand.
“I used to be a goth in high school, but now I come here every week,” said Fiona Esteves, 19, at the Metropolis nightclub near Paris where the craze started.
One of the men behind the venture, a former equities trader at Merrill Lynch, recently quit the trading floor to devote himself to the business full time.
“We didn’t really invent anything, but we concentrated and promoted a dance style inside the club, and when it took off on the Internet we realized it could be something bigger,” 31-year-old Alexandre Barouzdin told Reuters backstage at the club on a Saturday night.
Clad in red Tartan kilt, a glued-on dreadlock Mohawk wig, and chain necklace signed John Galliano, he said he had been promoting electronic music parties under the name Tecktonik for seven years.
In the club a DJ from the Netherlands played a techno version of Carmina Burana to a crowd of hundreds on the dance floor. Outside, cars filled a parking lot, and a door queue stretched half the length of a football field. T-shirts and sweatbands carrying Tecktonik logos were rife.
Barouzdin and his partner Cyril Blanc said they have invested 30,000 euros to protect the trade name Tecktonik — intended to suggest seismic change — to preserve the movement’s integrity and transform it from subculture into household name.
“At first it was all about quality control — we had a great party with special music and wanted to make sure nobody else could use the name to promote cheap copies,” Barouzdin said.
While blending dance music, club culture and throbbing electronic beats is nothing new, analysts say Tecktonik stands out because it aims at a younger crowd and attempts to encapsulate a trend under a single brand name from the start.
“Unlike rock, or punk, or similar movements, this has a commercial brand name driving it from the very beginning,” said Thomas Jamet from Paris agency Reload, which specializes in youth marketing.
Like www.Loserkids.com — a youth retailer from the United States — Tecktonik represents the lifestyle of its customers, and markets to a group of people who want to be sold to. By being mainly promoted by word of mouth, it is an example of ‘viral’ branding, where enthusiasts do the advertising.
For French sociologist Francois de Singly, the phenomenon shows how “capitalism has moved into such high gear that movements are becoming brands even before they are really born.”
Native Frenchmen Barouzdin and Blanc say the movement is about tolerance, is drug free, and welcoming to a younger crowd.
They say they registered the trademark in France in 2002, and internationally in 2007. As recognition spread abroad, CD compilations and a clothing label followed. Online, home-made videos of dancers with flailing arms and busy footwork helped propel sales and marketing buzz in 2007.
“I don’t know if the brand is a good thing, but the dancing is fun and can only get bigger,” said clubber Esteves, who comes in from nearby Noisy-le-Grand.
Barouzdin declined to give financial details, saying the company was only founded last year. But he said he sells around 1,000 Tecktonik T-shirts a week from online and physical shops.
Big companies are joining in. A compilation series pressed by British music group EMI sold 400,000 copies last year. Footwear manufacturer Reebok has given out shoes to a tour of French Tecktonik dancers in Japan last month.
And a merchandising arm of French television station TF1 is on board with an international licensing agreement, saying it is in talks to develop other products including a game for Nintendo’s Wii console.
“We’ve signed a deal with a textile manufacturer but it’s only the first step,” said Guillaume Lascoux from TF1 Licences.
Inside the Metropolis — where the dress-code was black, white and neon — groups of teen-to-twenty-somethings competed in dance battles’ reminiscent of 1980s-era break-dancing.
In another corner, crowds lined up for free haircuts and a photograph of their new look.
This year Barouzdin plans to open clothing shops in Miami, Paris, Tokyo, Budapest, and Berlin, expand a network of nightclubs authorized to use the name, and promote dance courses like one offering lessons for parents and children in central Paris.
Mark Mulligan, a former DJ and producer who covers the music sector for Jupiter Research in London, said Barouzdin had picked up on a larger reality affecting the industry.
“Major labels are realizing the days of making money just from selling CDs are over,” he said. But he was wary about the attempt to manage a trend from the top down during what could be a brief lifespan.
“The irony of this is that their true measure of success would be if they lose control of the movement. But if they want to be a successful business they’ll have to give it some room on the leash,” he said.
David Bruce, a strategist at Wolff Olins branding consultancy, agreed that for Tecktonik to survive it would have to avoid appearing like a closed shop, and allow newcomers room to influence it organically.
“Otherwise they could appear like just another big company involved in viral marketing ... or end up like Para Para — a Japanese dance style whose popularity peaked after it became a video game and was seen to have over-commercialized,” he said.
Editing by Sara Ledwith