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In this paper presented at The Eyouth Conference, May 28 2010, Antwerp, we want to address the viral marketing phenomenon and how young people despite their reputation of tech savvy won’t recognise this as true advertising because it’s perceived as something authentic. We also discuss therefore their media smartness.
We distinguished 2 types: Viral campaigns where purpose is not hiding and campaigns where the real purpose is hidden. This last type can be more hazardous to young people, because they are influenced unknowingly.
There are 2 views on the relation between authenticity and information technology:
- Technology forces to be more transparent as every claim made, can be checked
- can deliver an information overload what makes a selection tool necessary. In the current Experience economy the perception of authenticity delivers that tool.
As in the first view media smart young people should be able to recognize viral campaigns, the second view can be perceived as more pessimistic. When something is experienced as real, the people who receive and help spreading the messages, movies, sites, stories, … and don’t know that they are participating.
We want to reflect on these views by 3 cases of viral marketing aiming at youngsters: Unilever’s Dove movie called Onslaught, singer Mary Digby and the Flashmob in Antwerp Station. In all 3 cases professionals were heavily involved in disclosing the ‘truth’. We want to plead for a shift towards content analyses that goes further than introducing children to multiliteracies, but also aims at learning a historical-critical analysis attitude towards any given (digital) information.