While poring over Government of Canada online public service announcements for a presentation I was working on, I was reminded of one from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). This is one online ad government marketing communications shops would do well to look to for inspiration because it highlights that not all online content is created equal.
Legend, an anti drunk driving ad part of a larger road safety campaign originally developed for New Zealand television, made its mark as a social media phenomenon. The ad, which went viral within days of its launch, has since logged over 2.5 million views on the Agency’s YouTube channel alone. Its online success was such that its spun off fan Facebook pages and tribute music videos, and the term “ghost chips” – used in a scene from the ad – became an Internet meme that has since entered the country’s vernacular.
But more than impressive online results, it appears that the ad has delivered where it matters most: changing young people’s attitudes toward drinking and driving.
While the ad was aimed primarily at young Maori males, a study released by the NZTA found more than 90 percent of people remembered the ad when prompted. Most importantly, three quarters of those who remember the ad said it was likely to stop them from driving under the influence. The ad is now being credited, at least in part, to the 50 percent drop in young people caught driving under the influence over the last five years.
What distinguishes Legend from the road safety ads we’ve all seen before is that it avoids shock and gore and uses humour instead. It also avoids a moralistic tone or preaching to its target audience. Rather, it frames the problem – in the words of one of the characters – as requiring “internalising a complicated situation”.
Legend is a perfect example of cross-over content that not only survives the transition from paid TV advertising, but flourishes through social media. It is fresh, funny, and makes a deadly-serious point without being preachy, making it eminently sharable among its target audience of young males.
In trying to understand what content works and what doesn’t in social media, it’s instructive to compare Legend with the more traditional Donna Time, which was released by the NZAT last May. This ad has a more mature target audience and a focus on the family and family responsibility for making the right choices about drinking and driving.
While the message of both ads is virtually the same, the tone is markedly different, as are their online numbers: while Legend boasts over 2.5 million hits, Donna Time languishes in digital anonymity on the Agency YouTube channel with some six thousand views.
While the online numbers for Donna Time may be disappointing, its overall campaign may still be successful as it rests on a large media buy and also plays on a broad number of traditional channels, from television and radio to billboards.
The problems occur when organizations and their advertising agencies try to push content designed for TV, a 1950′s medium, on 21st century social platforms. It’s like putting a CD on a stereo turntable–it doesn’t work.
This traditional advertising and marketing paradigm remains well-suited to large traditional media buys as ways to frame consumer perceptions, but not social engagement. It works when you can buy eyeballs and multiple views. It fails miserably when your audience is your medium.
Because effective digital engagement requires content that is sharable. That means content that members of diverse online communities will feel comfortable sharing among their peers. Anything else misses the point.
It doesn’t necessarily follow in all instances that content designed primarily for television will fail when migrated to the social web. Every year we see dozens of examples of memorable TV ads that become viral sensations. But they are the exception, not the rule.
Whether your target audience is made up of teen-aged males or middle class families, the question to ask when developing digital content is the same: Will my audience want to share this?
If the answer is yes, go crazy. Post it on your YouTube channel and Facebook page, Tweet about it to your followers. If the answer is no, then there are two options: back to the drawing board or digital irrelevance.