How virality is helping activism

This week’s lecture consisted on activism both online and offline. As a class, we had a discussion about the positives and negatives of both, and what attributed to the successes of both methods. We focused in on online activism and arrived at the conclusion that online activism is largely successful because of the possibility of virality.

What is Virality?

Cohen (2013) defines going viral as the sharing of content from one person to another or multiple persons in their social network through the use of the internet and/or mobile technology. Going viral is the modern age word of mouth. It gets people talking, spreading a message about your brand. Helm (2000 cited Woerndl et al. 2008) identified virality as“The internet word of mouth communication” that is a much more capable and effective medium than traditional word of mouth communication.

If you’re curious as to why a video, in particular, goes viral, check out the talk below.

The ability to go viral is of the utmost importance for activist organisations especially ones that may not immediately be on the public’s radar.

Viral is hugely popular because of its cost effective nature and quick dissemination of content. Balter and Butman (2006 cited in Cohen 2013) recognises virality as a cheap, quick and effective method of spreading a message which combines the power of word of mouth marketing and mass communication.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

This challenge encouraged users to pour a bucket of ice cold water over their head, then nominate three more people to copy. People all over the world participated in this challenge. The aim of the ice bucket challenge was to raise awareness for ALS  and for participants to donate to the organisation.

Pouring water over your head is in no way connected to what ALS but it worked. Why did it work? Because people felt they were making a change at minimal effort. Forbes state “Big ideas get noticed; Selfless ideas inspire action; Simple ideas write us into the story”. I feel that watching people’s reactions to freezing buckets of water poured on them contributed to the success and virality of the campaign also.

As Forbes said people want to help and the easier it is to do, the more likely it’ll happen. Over 100 million in donations in a single month for ALS because of the ice bucket challenge.



The Rise of Branded Content

Jay Dillon. Inboundly Blog

What is branded content?

Branded content is engaging with an audience without pushing a product or service. Advertisements trying to sell something don’t get people talking about brands, at least not in a positive way and people don’t typically tweet about the next “this is what my product can do for you” advertisement (Whitney-Vernon 2016), but they do tweet in anticipation about a recent, episode of an interesting show. That show doesn’t have to be on television and an hour long. It can be on social media and last for just fifteen minutes. It can be a piece of branded content.

Branded content is based on creating and distributing content with the goal of boosting brand awareness and customer loyalty (Androich 2012). Branded content is also known as branded entertainment and is categorized under content marketing. Joe Pulizza founder of The Content Marketing Institute (cited in Rose 2013) suggests “content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you” but it is not advertising.  Cope (2014) suggests that the line between content marketing and advertising is blurred because of the struggle organisations endure to produce engaging content that doesn’t promote their product. Cope (2014) argues that advertising is a method used to sell a specific product or service whereas content marketing produces engaging, helpful and entertaining content, consistently targeting relevant consumer audiences.

Video is a popular method of branded content, but it is not the only form. It can come in traditional forms of printed magazines like ‘Porter’ devised by fashion website ‘Net-A-Porter’. This magazine can also be found of the website with links embedded for easy navigation. It can also be as simple as producing a weekly blog ‘not’ directly about the product or service directly. Perhaps a car dealership is looking it to engage with customers. They could write a weekly blog giving car tips and tricks. This would be engaging, helpful and entertaining content as (Cope 2014) suggests it should be.

Branded content used a subtle approach to raising awareness about your brand, improving its image and gaining likes and shares (Cope 2014). Cope adds that branded content needs be creative, innovative and worth sharing. Branded content is content that barely mentions its own brand or products (Cope 2014), it is not about the product and product features (Whitney-Vernon 2016).

Advantage for Organisations

Branded content mainly consists of storytelling (Mediative 2015). Brands and organisation must realise to attract their consumer’s interest, they need to create valuable, interesting content (Mediative 2015). Brands must fluidly find a way inside the consumer’s social media (Valero 2014), naturally integrating into their lives. If done successfully, it can lead to a range of benefits for the organisation or brand.

  1. Going viral

Good branded content goes viral (Mediative 2015). BeDell (2012) suggest that by creating worthwhile and interesting content, people are much more likely to spread it. It is natural in this social media driven world to share ideas, and information through social media (Mediative 2015) and sharing worthy and captivating content is no different.

Organisations can also take advantage of new technologies to communicate messages in creative ways (Edelman cited in Caywood 2012), resulting in the possibility of virality leading to an increased awareness for a brand.

  1. Build awareness

Brands are constantly looking for new ways to communicate their products and services to consumers (Valero 2014) and branded content is a subtle way of doing it. Branded content aims to resonate with people on an emotional level (Roberts 2014) and if successful can result in increased awareness for the brand and aid in brand recall (McCoy 2016). Forbes (2016) reported 59% of people that consumed branded content could recall those brands over brands that didn’t use branded content. They also reported consumers were more likely to seek out more content on their own initiative after a single exposure to branded content.

Branded content can be used to “pull people in” (Rose 2013) and since audiences are increasingly willing to accept content from any source, it has become easier to introduce a brand to consumers, as long as it is entertaining and delivers value (Donaton 2009).

Chartered Institute of Public Relations (2012) suggests that google and other search engines favour dynamic content thus building awareness through engaging and share worthy branded content. It can increase a brand’s S.E.O rating on the search engine results page. Brown (2009) adds that high rankings can impact the commercial value of a brand significantly as well as increase awareness.

An increase brand awareness is an increase in the number of existing and potential consumers taking note of a brand. The happier they are with a brand and the more value they derive from it, the more likely they are to become brand ambassadors (Collins 2016).

  1. Brand advocacy

Collins (2016) suggests that content marketing can turn customers into prospects if content is interesting, appealing and the consumer can derive value from it, consumers can become ambassadors and advocators for a brand (Sabate et al. 2012).

When consumers that are looking for content, find value, there is a high possibility they will share it on their social media (Collins 2016). These people can influence their peers’ purchasing decisions through sharing and promoting the content on their own social media. Collins (2016) adds it may not seem like a large action to take but this may develop into advocacy for the brand.

It is important to note that branded content not only delivers non-tangible benefits but also physical ones. Producing branded content that is targeted correctly and connects successfully with the target audience can be achieved at a low cost, and if virality ensues, can deliver cost effective benefits for current and future pieces of branded content (Creative Rebellion 2014).

Implications for Professional Communicators

As Whitney-Vernon (2016) suggests, content that focuses on selling your brand does not resonate with the consumer, but instead pushes them away. It is the role of the professional communicator to create content that attracts the consumer.

  1. Focusing on the product

Whitney-Vernon (2016) suggests that millennials know when they are being sold to, adding millennials are the most popular demographic in terms of branded content/marketing. She argues it can cause them to become passive consumers to an organisations content. The fact that they are aware they are being sold to before a product even passes the screen, poses a challenge for marketers and public relations practitioners to promote their organisation without obviously doing so.

Joe Pulizzi (cited in Olenski 2016) speaking about the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, said there was “no single piece of category-defining work” in 2014 and 2015 and despite 1,394 total entries for the ‘branded content and entertainment’ category, no awards were given out. Pulizzi believes it was partly because of the heavy use of product placement throughout the entries, which is not branded content. Professional communicators must be careful that they do not sell or promote the product or service, as Whitney-Vernon (2016) suggests, branded content is not about the product and product features.

  1. Ad blockers

McCoy (2016) suggests that approximately 200 million people worldwide use ad blocking software while online. Holt (2016) adds the increase in new technology has allowed the audience to opt out of advertisements which poses a challenge for the communications professional. McCoy (2016) suggests that branded content is the key to overcoming these ad blockers adding consumers will want to interact and engage with the brand because of good content.

  1. Ongoing pieces of content

Pulizzi (cited in Olenski 2016) feels that an award wasn’t given at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was because “most of the entries submitted were campaign-based and not ongoing editorial pieces of content for an audience”. Branded content should be produced regularly, ensuring that it’s relevant and scheduled to a timetable that the consumer can rely on (Chartered Institute of Public Relations 2012). Communications professionals need to ensure that the branded content they produce is intended to be developed on a continuous basis and not a once of campaign with an end date.

Successful Branded Content

Consumers no longer seek out content and information to engage with, so content must travel to the consumer (Valero, 2014). It is the role of the professional communicator to provide consumers with that content and to ensure it is entertaining and informative on a regular basis.

(Rose 2013) argues branded content possesses the means to attract people to a specific product or service because of meeting a need-state behind the purchase of said product or service by appealing to the lifestyle of the consumer, by appealing to what the consumer wishes to identify with. The best pieces of branded content are those that enable the consumer’s lifestyle; content that is lifestyle-centric rather than product centric (Rose 2013). I wish to discuss two brands that appeal to the lifestyle of the consumer or affect the consumer’s lifestyle in some way: Vans and Dove.

Vans – Living Off the Wall

Vans have produced a documentary project named “Living Off the Wall” which gives us insight into the lives of people who purchase Vans products. Vans are associated with living unconventionally and alternatively which is demonstrated in its roots in skateboarding, “Skateboarders who like Vans’ rugged make-up and sticky sole are seen sporting Vans all over Southern California” (Vans 2016).

Its tagline ‘Off the Wall’ is a “state of mind” (House of Vans London 2014). It embodies thinking differently, embracing creative self-expression and choosing your own life. “Since 1966, Vans has sought to inspire board-riders, musicians, artists and anyone for whom creativity matters as they inspire us and every product we make” (House of Vans London 2014).

The Living Off the Wall documentaries serve many categories of customers ranging from skateboarders and students to musicians and tattoo artists.

Tattoos Are Not Illegal- Living Off the Wall (Vans 2014)

Vans (2014) demonstrates the authentic lifestyles of their users, not staged actors pretending to embody the brand, perhaps these people act as brand ambassadors for Vans. There are no obvious promotional shots of Vans footwear but instead are integrated into the content and lives of their consumers, for instance when the tattooist used his foot to control the tattoo needle, we saw a quick shot of a Vans product. The only obvious promotion of Vans products in their documentaries are short bursts of their logo in the introductory and final scenes and the faded logo in the top right corner of the video.

Vans stand for going against the status quo, encouraging uniqueness and exploring what makes you, you. Vans have produced interesting and entertaining pieces of branded content which demonstrates living off the wall.

Dove – Real Beauty Sketches

Dove has produced videos depicting women self-loathing in an effort to help them realise and embrace their true beauty. Dove has positioned itself as brand that promotes body positivity and embracing natural beauty, “We believe beauty should be a source of confidence, and not anxiety. That’s why we are here to help women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem and realise their full potential.” (Dove 2017).

Dove Real Beauty Sketches – You’re more beautiful than you think (Dove US 2013)

Dove US (2013) features women that describe themselves to a FBI trained forensic artist. He sketches a portrait of the women based on their self-descriptions and how others have described them. He does not meet nor see the women during the encounter. At the end of their sketches, women view themselves as they’ve described themselves compared with how other women described them.

Like the Vans video, there is no obvious brand promotion throughout the video until the end where Dove’s tagline “You’re more beautiful than you think” appears along with the logo. The logo appears on the video still on YouTube on the bottom left, but not in the video itself until the end. Dove has also used real women with real issues about their bodies providing authenticity for the audience watching.

Dove wishes to associate itself with positive body image and does so subtly through the videos they produce. The most recent piece of branded content they have produced features Mothers speaking about their body issues and hoping their children don’t adopt their insecurities (Lazauskas 2014).

Both videos have successfully promoted the brands without obviously doing so to the consumer. They incorporated their personalities and core values into their videos without compromising the quality of the content or damaging the value the consumer could derive.

Devilish Designs by Gina


Devilish Designs by Gina is a small boutique in The English Market on Market Parade, Patrick’s Street, Cork City that sells retro/rockabilly and pin up clothing.

There is a developing body positive culture in Cork City and this boutique caters in clothes from body positive culture. Rockabilly and pin-up clothing embraces curves and natural beauty and typically caters for an alternative lifestyle. I would suggest that this boutique develops a series of documentaries in order to promote the boutique incorporating the Vans and Dove video ideas to create new and interesting piece of branded contents for Devilish Designs by Gina.

I understand that a lot of this boutique’s customers would lead an alternative lifestyle ranging from burlesque dancers to women that play roller derby; women that partake in these activities typically support and promote body positivity. They tend to go hand in hand.

I would urge Devilish Designs by Gina to produce a video featuring their customers telling their story of body positivity, speaking about what it means to them. The customers would also be encouraged to speak about their journey of self-acceptance and give motivational advice for the audience watching appealing to the consumer’s emotions like Dove did. Much like the Vans documentaries, each video could follow the consumer around hobbies or activities they partake in, like the tattoo artist in ‘Living Off the Wall’ incorporating subtle shots products and items from the boutique.

Gina, the owner of Devilish Designs by Gina is out-going, interesting, accommodating and adds to the experience of shopping in the boutique. If she was to take my suggestion, the piece of branded content would not only reflect the brand but also Gina, herself. It would embody the core values of the brand while remaining engaging, entertaining and helpful (Cope 2014), as all pieces of branded content should be.