World's Fair

Two things seem to be front and centre lately on the media circuits, one of which being the HIV/AIDS conference, and the other (in direct contrast) is the release of “Snakes on a Plane.” Both have a viral connotation, whereby HIV is suitably obvious, and the movie has more to do with information disemination.

It’s all very intriguing though – that is, this concept of a viral mechanism of getting information out there. The “Snakes in a Plane” is certainly a good example of this, and in fact, as far as I can tell, most everything reported about the movie is more to do with this aspect, rather than the movie itself. Apparently, due to small initial kerfuffle over the title of the project, it has somehow spawned a massive collective particpation.

So what gives? And how, for that matter, does Snakes on a Plane compare to the $10 Ok Go music video phenomenon (which even my children, only 2 and 4 years old though they be, love), or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster cult (also a big favourite, particularly in the scientific communities).

It’s an interesting query, because maybe these type of tactics are what science communicators need to look at, since it might represent a good trick to put that kink in the 15% scientific literacy figure.

Anyway, bringing us back to the HIV angle. I always thought that the figure “0.7%” was just ripe for this sort of viral marketing. It’s got so much potential as a symbol but as a media feature it is otherwise generally unknown to most people. And in case you’re one of these folks, it’s that percentage of a nation’s GDP that folks feel should be given to foreign aid – foreign aid meaning money to deal with things like the lofty UN Millenium Development Goals, which includes the HIV/AIDS battle for example. This is a Canadian invention, by the way, although embarrasingly, Canada (in 2005) was stuck at about 0.3% and the US at 0.2%. Put another way, this percentile is often a big discussion point at those G8 Summits you keep hearing about.

In any event, I think it’s got so much potential that here it is again, bigger and in one of my favourite fonts (Clarendon):


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But back to the “Ask a scienceblogger question, sort of,” which is as follows:

Essentially, as scientific types who tend to analyse, over-analyse, supra-analyse things, and who like to categorize and follow empirical trends, I’m interesting in hearing what you think it is that sparks these viral outbursts of information outreach? This question (and apologies for its convolution) also relates directly to your role as a blogger, where the assumption is that you revel in increased traffic, and are kind of looking for these tricks anyway. I guess, I’m just interested in hearing a scientist’s opinion on this, as oppose to the usual IT expert/academic.

Appendum: On a more specific note, I also curious to hear of ideas about propogating 0.7%. Maybe even put a general challenge out there…


  1. #1 bono
    August 17, 2006

    Well, I think if you’re going to focus on the similarities of your three examples, it’s almost as if an inherant goofiness is key for the spreading phenomenon. Mel Gibson drunk? That’s goofy. Zidane with the headbutt? Also goofy. Maybe that’s why something like 0.7% won’t work – can you really make something like that goofy?

  2. #2 BRC
    August 17, 2006

    I’ll admit, I think 0.7% is goofy. Is it a number, a symbol, a quote, an equation for human welfare, the percent of Mel Gibson’s brain that gets used, the time in a minute it takes to figure out the plot to Snakes on a Plane, a beautiful font construct at the elegant big Clarendon, or all at once?

    But do viral things have to be goofy? The Gibson and Zidane things spread also because they were in the cultural current, pop entertainment. That’s what the kids go crazy for.

    So what can we do to make 0.7% nifty with the tween & teen & what would be the old Melrose Place demographic? We’ve got to think, people. It’s almost too important not to.

  3. #3 Timon
    August 17, 2006

    “3 minutes to save the world”

    Based on taking 0.7% from an 8 hour shift and you’ve got 3 minutes (plus change).

    “Could you spare 3 minutes? That’s all it could take to help save millions of lives. Giving over 0.7% of national GDP could make the difference in terms of making humanitarian aid effective and curbing the spread of disease in impoverished nations. In an 8 hour work shift, that’s a contribution of just over 3 minutes worth of wages.

    It’s not too much to ask.

    Find out more at ___.”

    Too heavy-handed? I’m not sure. The finger-snapping “make poverty history” stuff got to me, but maybe telling people exactly what they need to give in the tag-line could prove more effective? Maybe call it “the 3 minute solution”?

  4. #4 David Ng
    August 17, 2006

    You know goofy might be a big part of it (bono? not the Bono, I’m assuming). Goofy tends to work well when you have little time and need something light and quick to catch your attention, which is maybe what you need with a viral campaign.

    The 3 minute idea is cool, but would it be viral?

    Interestingly, I should note that compared to the previous two “Ask a ScienceBlogger, sort of” (Batman, Children’s Book), the response (at least initially) appears to be much less enthusiastic. Kind of ironic that a post about viral marketing, might be anti-viral itself. But again, compared to the other two questions, this one is way less goofy (there’s that word again).

    Maybe the Edge should weigh in.

  5. #5 David Ng
    August 17, 2006

    You know I just had a thought: Bono leaving a comment on a post that ties Snakes on a Plane to 0.7%? Isn’t that classic goofiness right there?

  6. #6 Dr. Free-Ride
    August 17, 2006

    Hey, don’t undercount enthusiasm yet! There’s an incubation period before you see other cases.

  7. #7 Timon
    August 17, 2006

    Taking the “3 minutes” concept viral could involve soliciting music, vids, games, and, well, pretty much anything that could occupy that kind of time frame and making them available at a specific site. I mean, the internet is all about procrastination, right?

    Make the broader concept “3 minutes to save the world!” and make a project called “Procrastinate for humanity!” (credit card donations accepted). You could have daily presentations occupying the exact amount of time that people are meant to be working for humanity (3 min, 22 sec). On a main page, you could end up showing the best culled from submissions from the public at large and you could also collect celebrity content. Each submission could be a “webenefit” (or “weben”). First suggestion: some sort of interactive Rube-Goldberg Machine that runs its course in 3m22s (fulfills goofy criteria, n’est-ce pas?).

  8. #8 David Ng
    August 17, 2006

    The 3 min 22sec angle is kind of catchy. Let’s come back to that sometime in the future.

  9. #9 Sarah
    August 18, 2006

    I’m reminded of Connie Willis’s very funny book, *Bellwether*, which is about a sociologist who works for “HiTek Corporation” and is trying to figure out how to start fads. It’s a fun, quick read, and there’s a lot in it about the role of serendipity in scientific discoveries (with historical examples). The book comes to mind because I’m not sure it’s possible to create a viral outburst of information.

    That said, I think there’s something to the goofiness theory.

  10. #10 Seth Manapio
    August 20, 2006

    I was infected with the SoaP virus pretty early, via “escape pod”, a science fiction podcast with a strong audience. The host said, basically, that no other title could so succinctly capture the essence of this movie… you expect snakes, you expect a plane, you expect to have fun. Its simple, direct, specific, and self-explanatory. A perfect meme.

    Memes come in many forms. According to Sue Blackmore, author of “the meme machine”, everything is a meme, all forms of human communication. And she has a point. If everything is a meme, all marketing is viral… having the name “Oakley” on the side of a pair of sunglasses that is worn by some guy in a mall is viral.

    But some viral marketing, like Jehovah’s witnesses, is clunky and ineffective, and other viral marketing, like naming your movie “Snakes on a Plane” is wildly effective.

    .7% lacks a certain something. Like Nike’s 10//2 clothing line, it requires too much information to be a small package virus. SoaP requires no extra information, it is almost totally self contained… it sounds good all by itself, even if it weren’t a movie. Add “Samuel L. Jackon” and you have everything you need to know.

    So it loses on learning curve. Yellow bracelets were wildly popular, but thats because they were cheap, had celebrity endorsement, and constantly visible. You saw them and had awareness, and then asked what they were. The LAF didn’t have to market them very much, there was a visible marker that people carried. Part of good small package viral is getting people to market things for you.

    .7% doesn’t have that, either. How do you push it? How do people learn about it? Is there a marker? What’s the hook? Goofy is a hook and an easy one, but there are others.

    3 minutes, .7%, these things are also being used already by groups like “Christian Children’s Fund”. Would you spare a cup of coffee… 15 cents a day… and so on.

    I’m tempted to say that packaging may not be the only problem. People want to watch movies, they want to have fun. They want to wear accessories and appear generous and hip. Do they want to spend money on poorly understood programs in foreign countries? Probably not. So if you want to encourage belief in something like foreign aid, you have to tie it to something people want.

    Just my .7%.

    Oh, and serif fonts aren’t cool right now.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    August 20, 2006

    Does viral marketing actually work?

    I’d really like to see some numbers on that. You know, sales figures comparing equivalent products, one advertised virally and a control advertised in the traditional fashion, etc. Anybody know a place where such figures have been collected?

  12. #12 Krack
    August 23, 2006

    Is not viral marketing been in existance for over a century … called “word of mouth”.

    Not meaning to go off topic … but … ummm, as a Canadian (I wonder if I be beheaded or dismembered for this fact) … but 0.7% as help to the 3rd world invention of ours is probably an awful idea.

    So … I replace that idea with another idea thought of by a Canadian (I don’t think I am the first). I have a sure cure for world poverty … be a challenge to implement … but technically possible and guarenteed to work. And not much unreasonable sacrifice. Solution: World is over-populated … shrink it to where is belongs (under 1 billion is a guess) … and bye bye poverty, raping the planet, and human arrogance over other species. No need to kill anyone … just prevent births in some noble fashion (I have potential ideas there). Homo Sapiens look on the road to extinction right now … perhaps this fix could put us on a sustainable path for the species.

    Now … lets see if viral marketting spreads this around. Peace be with y’all.

  13. #13 Ground Zero Homeboy
    August 23, 2006

    There’s classic and cool. Clarendon is classic. Classic always wins over cool, just as ideology always wins over corrupt warlordism (as we just saw in Somalia).

  14. #14 Timon
    August 30, 2006

    This is definitely a great example of something going viral. I was sent the damn thing multiple times over the last couple days. Now this. The amazing thing? It all happened in about a week! The lesson for would-be viral campaigners: include a free caffeine fix.

  15. #15 Pedro Beltrao
    October 18, 2006

    I prefer the 3m idea but I agree that it sounds a bit “old”. The (product)RED campaign has a lot going for it. It’s visually expressive and a lot of marketing money will be spent on promoting it. I don’t think it is all about the meme itself but also who promotes it. If all the blogs hosted under scienceblogs promoted a meme at the same time it could go viral even if was not a perfect meme. Launch the (ScienceBlogs)RED meme, science blogs united to promote AIDS awareness. Blog reviews on HIV/AIDS science.

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    February 11, 2013

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