But while the campaign is a good example of the kind of gutsy, out-of-the-boardroom thinking organizations need in order to take full advantage of social media amplification, it does raise an important question about how far one can go in the search of the Holy Grail of digital marketing without sacrificing message effectiveness.
As witnessed by the number of April Fools’Day prank videos many brands want to be associated with wildly viral videos regardless of content or tone because of the value of residual recognition. In the case of advocacy or public service advertising where it’s the message that matters, if the audience is only there for the yuks, the campaign risks missing the mark, and the audience the point.
Let’s compare Quit the Denial’s use of humor to an anti-drunk driving campaign by the New Zealand Transport Agency that also made effective use of humour to target its young demographic with a deadly-serious message.
Legend, an anti drunk driving ad part of a larger road safety campaign originally developed for New Zealand television in 2011, made its mark as a social media phenomenon. The ad, which went viral within days of its launch, has since logged over 2.4 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.
According to an evaluation study done by the New Zealand Transport Agency, more than its impressive online results, the ad delivered where it matters most: changing young people’s attitudes toward drinking and driving.
Unlike in the Social Farter, Legend’s humour never overwhelms its core message. This is one public health video that doesn’t talk down or preach to its key audience but instead frames the sometime heart-wrenching choices young people have to make in a language and manner that resonates with them.
To take advantage of social amplification, digital content has to be fresh and edgy. And humor is always a big seller. But for organizations looking at developing digital campaigns the trick is finding the elusive sweet spot between cerebral and aloof and silly and forgettable.
With over 800 K YouTube views, the Social Farter is an online success. The question is whether the online amplification it has achieved is translating into conversations about smoking addiction or just a few laughs.
While we’ll have to wait for the formal evaluation to pass definitive judgement, from my perch, Ontario’s Quit the Denial campaign has yet to find its sweet spot. At this point, its serious anti-smoking message may just be getting lost in the laugh track.