A Year of Content Marketing in Review (2016): The Hottest Types of Content & 5 Key Takeaways

A Year of Content Marketing in Review (2016): The Hottest Types of Content & 5 Key Takeaways

2016 has been quite a year, and we aren’t just talking about the world of politics or sports. When the new year began, it would have been hard to believe that the Chicago Cubs would (finally!) win the World Series, “challenges” would be so popular (how many flips will it take to upright that water bottle? And can you do it while posing like a mannequin?), and adults would be THAT wrapped up in Pokémon Go.
Over here at my agency, we started the year with some tips on how to run a successful blog, and through the last twelve months we have continued to deliver on a ton of content for our audience. From publishing my book, to launching my podcast, publishing our intense #howtowriteseries, and launching our weekly #ContentWritingChat back in January, all the way to email marketing and event attendance, infographics, and much more, content marketing continues to prove our #1 form of marketing here at Express Writers. 2016 proved to be our biggest year for that.
But what we did this year in content marketing is for our Content Creation Report, coming up on Thursday. For today, we’re taking a retrospective look back at the industry of content marketing as a whole and what 2016 looked like.
Content marketing has had its own interesting turns in 2016, and we’re here to break it down. Grab a cup of something warm and join me, will you?
We're taking a retrospective look back at the industry of content marketing as a whole and what 2016 looked like. Check out our takeaways and #contentcreation report Click To Tweet
2016 content marketing in review

Best in Content Marketing Circa 2016: 7 Key Factors of Good Content this Year

There was much to talk about this year by way of good content, viral content, shared content, and engaging content. Whether it was liked, retweeted, pinned, or snapped, quality material was not in short supply.
What became clear is that readers have a desire to interact with what they’re taking in, that influential content marketing leaders still know where it’s at, and fake news is not going to rule the landscape.
Here are some highlights of what went down:

1. The rise of interactive content

(Forbes): As companies have moved away from “plain vanilla content”, they have moved toward content that is appealing to the audience by way of interactive material. This may take the form of quizzes, polls, and a variety of two-way content.

2. Influential leaders

(Marketing Profs): From Sujan Patel to Jeff Bullas, influential content marketers showed us what worked and what didn’t.

3. Viral content

(Buzz Sumo): Anytime a video, blog, or social media post goes crazy, we call it viral. From open letters directed at Trump supporters to sexy bald men, viral content was a highlight of the year. No surprise here, since we live in a time of instant shares, Facebook trolling, and retweets that number in the millions.

4. Long and complex blogs

(Track Maven): When companies blog for business, they are producing more content but with less impact. Per brand, the number of posts have increased while the social shares have gone down. The length of blog posts grew from an average of 639 words per post in 2015 to just over 700 in 2016.

3. Consistent delivery

(Content Marketing Institute): Of the top content marketing performers, 85% deliver content consistently. This does not always translate to daily or even weekly content, but rather impactful and relevant content on a consistent basis, including repurposed material.

4. Fake news and Facebook

(The Guardian): Mark Zuckerberg may have started the year with a message of hope, but no one could have predicted what the next 12 months would hold for the social media giant. Photo censorship and fake news seemed to loom even as the site’s users inched toward a total of 2 billion worldwide.

5. Infographics

(Buzz Sumo): Not everyone is a fan, but infographics are widely shared, even if they fail to gain very many links. Back in 2012, Jeff Bullas gave us 9 awesome reasons to use them, and by the end of 2016, 58% of marketers are still on board with the picture-and-data mashups.
Infographics actually made up one of our top-shared content types for the year (3/10 of our top-shared content pieces for the year were infographics)!

Did Content Marketing in 2016 Surprise You?

If any of these come as a surprise, it might help to go waaay back to the end of 2015, when predictions were being tossed around about the future of content marketing. Can’t remember that long ago?
Here are some predictions given in late 2015 from influencers, about 2016, to refresh your memory:

  • (CMI) Native advertising would help big companies find their footing, while others would be decimated and may never fully recover.
  • (Mashable) Static content would start to be replaced by more interactive experiences.
  • (Neil Patel via Forbes) Personal authority will be important to the audience.
  • (Jordan Teicher via Contently) The smartest brands would publish less and put more emphasis on larger editorial projects.
  • (Jeff Deutsch via EW) Content marketers would be challenged to cut through the “noise” of too much content.

Some of these predictions were spot-on, while others may have been good guesses but didn’t quite hit the content marketing nail on the head. Our predictions post last year had some pretty accurate statements made.

5 Takeaway Lessons from Content Marketing in 2016

Either way, there are some takeaway lessons we can learn as we move forward to 2017.

1. You Wouldn’t Use a Dial-Up Phone—Don’t Use Boring Content

You may or may not remember the days of writing letters, reading the newspaper as a sole source of information, and dialing the phone (at home) when you wanted to call someone. Some might say that those were the days, and they might be right.
But just like it would not be conducive to start using a rotary phone, content marketers can’t afford to ignore the right now. Staying stuck in the past, where content creation went steady with keyword stuffing and boring information, won’t work going forward.
Consistent delivery may not mean you throw something out every day or even every week; what it does mean is that when it is delivered, it gives your readers an interactive, enjoyable experience that they can use.

2. A Social Audience with No Time to Waste

We live in a complex world, one in which we crave information but run the risk of getting bogged down by it. We may want more authentic relationships, but more and more of us connect via our phones rather than a face-to-face setting. At the same time, we tire of insignificant information from invalid sources.

3. Social Media Isn’t Going Anywhere

The mediums may change, but since the early days of MySpace in 2003 to the billions of social media users across many channels today, our clicks are proof that this is how we connect and engage. It may not be too long before the number of active social media users equals the amount of total internet users.

4. Americans May be Headed Towards Information Overload

According to Pew Research, the percentage right now is relatively small—only 20% of Americans feel overloaded by the constant onslaught of information—and that number changes based on the number of access pathways individuals have at their disposal.

5. Readers Want Authoritative Content, Not Fluff

Fake news won’t cut it. Breaking news is shared, but content marketers need to have an understanding of the credibility behind it. As BuzzSumo points out, it helps to create an original take on a story and create tips or how to posts that the audience can understand and relate to their own situation.

3 Most Shared Pieces of Content Marketing in 2016

Across the content marketing world, there are countless blog posts, e-books, and statistics that provide us with the valuable information we need from the experts we trust. Part of the greatness of this industry is the abundance of guidance and wisdom we can glean from those who know it best.
Of all the advice and how-to’s that dominate the content marketing industry, three stand out as the most shared pieces of 2016. Here they are, thanks to BuzzSumo software:

1. Everything the Tech World Says About Marketing is Wrong

(Tech Crunch)
The content from Tech World opens with the line, “The biggest problem in marketing in the tech world today is that too many marketers do not know the first thing about marketing”. If that doesn’t draw you in and make you stay, we don’t know what would.
The catchy title and relevant content fetched thousands of Facebook shares, even as Samuel Scott wrote that digital marketers “have fallen into an echo chamber of meaningless buzzwords”. Scott’s use of colorful graphics and advice for tech marketers was engaging and ended with a nod to marketers being “full of it”.
The comments that follow are worth the read.

2. How Much Do People Trust Your Content?

Brian Sutter highlighted this opinion piece with truths related to the lack of fact-checking on internet publications, a distrust among readers, and a low credibility among journalists. He continued with some tips on how to build a loyal audience, which every content marketer and online writer can relate to.
Sutter touched on the fact that “most people dislike being sold to” and cited Nielsen research backing this fact. Building a loyal audience takes time, but it can happen with the combination of useful content and authoritative statistics.

3. These Marketers, Content Producers and Entertainers Under 40 Are Shaping the Industry

From actor Donald Glover and Content VP of SnapChat Nick Bell to Ivanka Trump and Michael Dublin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, this list was inspiring even as it covered a host of different industries.
The common factor among all of these Young Influentials is their commitment to deliver the best performance and content in their field, whether that’s in the world of social media, digital media, or in the movie industry. Imgur’s director of creative strategy Laurel Hodge says of her role, “I create creative strategies and content that aspires to be next in the most viral content on the internet”.
Content marketers would be wise to do the same.

In Content Marketing, 3 Key Things Stayed the Same

Technology will change, as will the ways by which we access it. But a few things will stand the test of time, no matter the delivery medium. In the midst of an ever-evolving world, the audience has to remain the priority—after all, without them, why write? As creative thinkers and collaborators, we can continue to:

1. Develop relevant content

If what you write is not important to the audience, they won’t stay. It is worth the time and investment to get to know your readers, their behaviors, and the patterns they follow. Watch how they engage on social media and in comment forums and what they share of your content.

2. Draw readers in and make them stay

A catchy title is a great start, but it isn’t quite enough to engage readers for a long period of time. It is a waste of time to weigh your audience down with long and boring pieces of information that are published just for the sake of a full website, blog, or social media feed.

3. Back up all content with authority

In an age of fake news, moving forward with authority and credible sources is even more important in content creation. As Brian Sutter reminds us (How Much Do People Trust Your Content?), it also pays to include both sides of an argument or perspective. This, he points out, demonstrates your expertise as a writer and adds depth of understanding for the audience.

A Year of Firsts is Coming to a Close. What Now?

Now that the year is ending and we can look back in reflection, how do we move forward with the right information?
First, continue to look to those experts in the field who continue to deliver quality content to writers.
Second, always be developing ourselves so that we can write better, communicate more effectively, and make meaningful connections.
Lastly, keep an eye on the past and the good it held while looking forward with the lessons we have learned.
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Break the Internet: Learn What It Takes to Create Viral Content From 5 Of the Hottest Pieces On the Web

Break the Internet: Learn What It Takes to Create Viral Content From 5 Of the Hottest Pieces On the Web

Brannon Powers is a Content Specialist at Express Writers.
Ever wanted to see a piece of your content go viral (aka, break the internet)?
It’s a dream of many of us as marketers, but in order for a piece of content to “break the internet,” it needs to go viral in a big, big way: and it takes a special mix of things in order for content to be able to do that.
In addition to being interesting, it also needs to have that special “something” that gives it an edge over the competition.
In this post, we’re going to break down some of our favorite viral pieces and help you understand why and how they got that way.
Keep reading.
viral content

What Makes Viral Content… Viral?

Viral content doesn’t just happen by accident. Instead, it’s a highly strategized and intentional form of content that draws upon a few proven, essential things to become popular. There have been multiple studies conducted on the topic of what it takes for content to go viral and every study finds the same things: great content has a series of traits that help it stand out to audiences.
We’ll breakdown the 7 trademarks we think all viral content has in a moment: but first, we need to take a look at a few content pieces online that deserve everyone’s attention, so you can be inspired on what they did right.
Drumroll please.
Here are a few of the hottest content pieces on the web in our beloved industry, content marketing and SEO.

5 Content Pieces that Went Viral

1. “Google is Hiring an SEO Manager to Improve its Rankings in Google” – Search Engine Land
One of the most-shared articles on Buzzsumo under the keyword “SEO,” this sucker earned more than 21,000 shares across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+.
The reason for this is clear: the headline is shocking.
Search Engine Land Screenshot
Anyone who knows anything about SEO would know that Google is a company that does SEO, so the fact that the king of the castle would have to hire a king to teach it to be king is shocking. To provide extra value for readers, this piece of content also includes a screenshot of Google’s own job listing and excerpts about the requirements and experience needed to qualify.

2. ”7 Social Media Experiments That Grew our Traffic by 241%”– Buffer 
Buffer Screenshot
With more than 12.7 thousand total shares, this piece is a fantastic example of content gone viral. This article was shared on Twitter by HubSpot, SEMrush, and the Mayo Clinic’s Social Media Network department, to name a few.
So what makes it notable?
Well, to start with, it promises great things.
The article is apparently aimed at marketers, and the implication that Buffer grew its traffic by 241% (a number so large it’s almost hard to comprehend) means, of course, that the people who read the article can, as well. It’s a confident statement, but since Buffer has already done it with their own content, they’re sending the clear message that their readers can, as well.
When you visit the article, the writer also does an excellent job of getting right inside your head. The opening line is, “If you’ve asked this before…’How do we get more visitors to our website?’…you’re certainly not alone…” By making the content relatable for readers, the writer inspires trust as well and a relieving feeling of “oh yeah, he gets me.”
Finally, the article uses a handful of really well-done images to demonstrate its point, break up the text, and provide proof of the headline’s claim.
Insert Buffer Screenshot #2
3. “The Nit-Picking Glory of the New Yorker’s Comma Queen” – Ted

Pop quiz: what made this headline go viral? Interest, authority, and visuals? Right, you are. This article is actually a video published by Ted. It has more than 11.7 thousand total shares, with more than 9 thousand shares on Facebook alone. But why?
There are a couple of reasons.
First of all, it’s a video, which makes it perfect for social media and quick sharing.
Second of all, the title is quirky, entertaining, and authoritative.
“A comma queen?” the reader thinks, “What’s that? I must know!”
Once the interest has been piqued, the reader absorbs the reference to The New Yorker, which is one of the most authoritative literary journals in the world right now, so the article immediately establishes credibility.
Finally, the word “glory” promises that this will be entertaining, funny, or both. Oh, also, who cares about the Oxford comma? She does.
4. “3 Unusual Hacks to Dramatically Up Your LinkedIn Game” – Moz
Insert Moz Screenshot
With more than 17 thousand shares, this Moz article by Larry Kim went viral in a big way.
Can you guess why?
First of all, it’s the first how-to article in this list, which makes it appealing to readers right off the bat.
Secondly, it offers three points, and while longer lists do tend to rank well, this one communicates to readers that it’s immediately actionable, and absorbable now. As in: they can be using these tips on their LinkedIn accounts today.
This piece does a few things right.
First, it’s beautifully laid out, with plenty of white space to give the reader space to navigate through the content. Additionally, it makes use of graphics that make the reader feel like they’re wandering through a great story, like this one:

LinkedIn Unicorn screenshot
Thanks to the mix of helpful text and unique graphics that give the piece a distinctly festive and fairytale-esque feel that stands out, this piece manages to be exciting to readers while also being useful, relevant, and actionable. It’s also a long piece of content, which dives into the reader’s questions, answers them thoroughly, and offers plenty of evidence, screenshots, information, and proof to back the material in the content up.
5. “Why it’s Impossible for you not to Read this Sentence” –The Independent
Independent Screenshot
Why did this piece go viral? If you guessed the headline, you’re right. With upwards of 5,400 total shares, this article on brainwashing and the written word reached audiences across the web. But why?
First of all, the headline already told us what we’re going to do, and so we do it. Second of all, it’s incredibly authoritative. Readers feel that their destiny has already been spelled out for them, so they click on the content to read the sentence they’ve been told they can’t possibly avoid.
Once you’re in the content, you discover another thing – this article (Which deals with the concept of being “brainwashed by words”) is really fascinating. I’d categorize my current emotional state as “in awe,” which, as it turns out, is one of the emotions I should be feeling if I were to share this. Which I think I will.

The Trademark of Viral Content

You’ve just looked at some pretty hot content pieces on the web. Well, remember what I said about all viral content pieces having the same trademarks?
Without the following 7 key traits, it’s tough for content to earn extreme levels of online popularity.
Here’s what viral content needs in order to succeed:

1. Viral content appeals to the emotions

Viral content is emotive content. Enough said. One study conducted by University of Pennsylvania researchers Katherine Milkman and Jonah Berger evaluated 7,000 New York times articles and found that the ones that were most popular were also the ones that evoked passionate emotions in their readers – emotions like amusement, anger, anxiety, or amazement. In addition to being more likely to be shared online, this content also earned more engagement than content that evoked feelings of “meh.”
The takeaway? Emotion is a powerful factor in online writing, and content that makes people feel something big is more likely to be shared.

2. Viral content is straightforward

Yes, readers want to be amazed by your content, but they also want to be able to get through it. Because of this, content that offers educational material, a clear flow, and simple, straightforward calls-to-action is likely to go viral.
According to the study above, online readers love sharing content that helps them uplift others or improve upon themselves, and it’s tough to do this with content that’s muddy and messy. Instead, think along the lines of list and tutorial articles. Clear, straightforward, and useful, these types of content remain high on the list of stuff that wants to go viral.

3. Viral content appeals to a broad selection of audiences

One thing that many writers overlook in content is readability. In other words, can people actually read this content? If it’s so stuffed with industry speak and jargon that the answer is “no,” or “Only if they have a few degrees,” you’re barking up the wrong tree. For content to go viral, it needs to be readable. With this in mind, shoot to keep your writing at or just slightly above an eighth-grade reading level. There are plenty of online readability tests to help you determine where your content falls.

4. Viral content makes people want to act

No post ever went viral that caused people to walk away content. Instead, viral content uses authoritative information and action-inspiring words to get people to do something – be it share, keep reading or comment on the piece. Do a quick scan of some of the most viral titles online and you’ll find that many of them contain power words – a coincidence that’s no accident, after all.

5. Viral content is authoritative

For your content to garner the number of shares it needs to go viral, it’s going to have to know a thing or two about what it’s talking about. As an overarching rule, viral content is authoritative, and it goes viral because people are hungry for the information within it. This factor has been propelled by the recent release of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, and the focus therein on E-A-T (Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) in online content.

6. Viral content includes visuals

Visuals are attractive to humans. The brain processes visual information thousands of times faster than it processes textual information, and it’s easy to see why content that is shared by millions of people also contains visuals. In fact, including a visual in a Facebook post can boost its share rate by a whopping 87% – which is no small beans for content that wants to go viral.

7. Viral content pays attention to post times

95% of writing viral content is actually about writing the content. 5% of it, however, boils down to publishing the content at a time when people are online and ready to interact with something. According to OkDork and Buzzsumo, the best day to share a piece of content is Tuesday, which results in significantly more shares than virtually any other day of the week.
Check out this OkDork graph:

Going Viral: Making Your Content More Popular

When it comes to content, going viral is every marketer’s dream.
In addition to spreading the word about your material around the web, viral content also helps establish you as an immediate authority and can dump thousands of organic visits to your site on a daily basis.
Because of this, it’s critical for good marketers to learn what, exactly, makes viral content and how content that’s already gone viral is structured.
Take inspiration from the five content pieces we deconstructed, so you can apply the traits of good content to your own publishing. It’s time to take proactive steps to ensure that the content you’re publishing is content that your readers, visitors, colleagues, and the search engines alike will all love.
Need help creating content that goes viral on your pages? Visit our Content Shop today to get started!

Is The Dress Blue and Black or White and Gold? How It Went Viral

Is The Dress Blue and Black or White and Gold? How It Went Viral

If you are less interested in the way in which your brain perceives colors and more determined to find out how a picture of a dress had the power to break the Internet and fuel one of the hottest debates of the year, chances are that you are also wondering why #TheDress made history this month.
The dress that managed to go viral online is a chameleonic product in its own right: some think it’s blue and black; others swear it’s actually white and gold (while more than a few debaters label it as an eye sore regardless of its color and end this discussion without any further ado).

#TheDress Debate: What’s The Real Science Here?

The science behind this controversy provides a logical explanation for this weird phenomenon: the human brain has been trained to focus on the actual relationship created between colors, and not just the hues themselves. This hypothesis, introduced by Beau Lotto, a reputable professor of neuroscience from the University College London and cited by BBC in a recent article, allows us to reach the conclusion that people interpret the chromatics of the dress differently simply because they focus on different aspects; some pay more attention to the actual colors of the dress, while others “decode” the hues based on the background light or the shade of their very own computer monitor.

Defining the Color or Virality

Long story short, #TheDress debate made you laugh, made you raise an eyebrow or made you schedule an appointment with a local ophthalmologist. Science may be able to explain why people see this dress in different color combos, but how could one justify the virality of the picture that started and fueled the most ample social media conversation at an incredible speed, becoming the number one trending topic in the United States overnight?

3 Reasons Why #TheDress Became America’s Favorite Conversation Starter

How did this controversial (and in reality, awfully plain) dress manage to simultaneously gather more than 670,000 people on Buzzfeed, convince 900,000 visitors to take a poll and give no less than 10 million people at least one good reason to read the entire post? Here are a few plausible reasons why the blue and black/white and gold dress has succeeded in creating quite a stir worldwide.

  1. We All Like to Paint a Pretty Picture in the Colors of Controversy. We all love mysteries and strange phenomena that defy our logic. Moreover, we appreciate one-of-a-kind topics with a peculiar novelty factor that feeds our curiosity. Undoubtedly, the dress debate has stayed in the public eye for quite some time now due to its ability to bring people together and make them question an otherwise insignificant aspect of their mundane existence.
  2. People Tend to Share Positive Stories. A recent article published by CNN highlights another important reason that somewhat justifies the ever-growing popularity of the chameleonic dress. Readers are always fond of positive stories that make them giggle, laugh or shed a tear (of joy). Tired of shocking “hard news” and the drama associated with their own daily lives, they turn to the simplest forms of entertainment that evoke constructive emotions for a change. Pictures of “the dress” may have made you frown or experience frustration for a few seconds, but at the end of the day they have also given you the opportunity to start a relaxing conversation with your loved ones and get your daily worries off your mind. All in all, this is what viral content actually does: it sits people down, helps them unwind and gives them something to talk about.
  3. The Dress Debate Has All the Main Attributes of a Grand Viral Hit. Unique, unplanned and unpolished, the pictures of the black and blue (or white and gold) dress still have all the elements of a major viral hit. According to Neetzan Zimmerman, the well-known viral content expert, #TheDress defines the concept of Viral Singularity. In other words, it is divisive, dumb and extremely sharable. It responds to the readers’ need for fun, uncomplicated yet somewhat challenging content that would undoubtedly make a great party conversation starter. During the dullest event, instead of chatting about the weather, you could always try to find out how your new interlocutor perceives the colors of this iconic dress.

As Long As It’s Viral, It Doesn’t Really Matter If It’s Black or White

Aside from giving us the impression that we may be colorblind, #TheDress debate has also inspired another moment of revelation: the one in which you realize that crafting viral content is not as difficult as people say it is.
Here are the main ingredients that you should combine to take your story to a whole new level: a fun, uncomplicated piece of information generating positive emotions, a little bit of controversy created around your story and a new perspective that will make your readers question everything they have ever read, heard or spoken.
When you craft content that encourages people to quarrel, take sides and share their (unsolicited) opinion via social networks you are automatically prepping yourself for success, while getting ready to step into the spotlight.
Image source: yibada.com

The Great Content Roundup: Week 5, Topic Making Your Content Viral

The Great Content Roundup: Week 5, Topic Making Your Content Viral

Viral content. It turns heads. It stops us in our tracks. We HAVE to look. We have to read (at least a little of it).
What makes content viral, and how do you get a piece of the game so you can experience the results of heavily trafficked, popular content? I have some awesome resources for you this week. Let’s take a look!

Viral Content: Resources From The Great Content Roundup!

10 Quick Tips for Going Viral from Problogger. Useful piece. “You can’t go viral if you say the same as everything else.” Getting your basics right, being a trend setter and leader, writing list style posts, and using emoticons and being long are all features of viral content, as written here.
The Secret to Creating Viral Content (Get Contagious) on Social Triggers. Did you know positive oriented content is more of a candidate to go viral than negative voice content? Or, practical and useful content is almost always a viral candidate winner? This piece gives some very useful tips that will help you cover all your basics when creating content to go viral. Plus, there are 7 emotions listed that can make your content contagious to include in your content creation. (I have this list in my editorial calendar already.)
5 Secrets for Creating Contagious Content for Social Media & Web Content by yours truly. I explore contagious content and how to craft such content. Usefulness is key; emotions will succeed; storytelling and knowledge are keys.
Backlinko Blog- A “Viral Content” Case Study – “How To Generate 36,282 Readers — and 1,000 Email Subscribers — From Your Next Blog Post (Case Study)”. Now you might think this is some crazy automated product for sale by the title, if you’re anything like me, but don’t worry—it isn’t. It’s one of the best pieces of content on how to share and create viral content that I’ve read. Basically, this guy says that if you 1) find awesome content that is getting a ton of popularity and 2) make some awesome improvements to that content (write your own and make it better) 3) lastly, promote via email—well, you’ve got a winner. I’d go as far as to call it viral content creation. And he’s got a whole impressive case study showing proof of this suggestion. I can validate this entire strategy because you’re basically creating terrific quality content here by identifying what’s popular in your industry and how you can add your own voice and improve directly upon it. Rock on, Ben! View their other viral case study on a blog generating 17k plus viewers in a day.
And, The Viral Content Problem (Many People Don’t Care Whether It’s True) on Gigaom. A most objective, interesting and truthful piece. This really hits the nail on the head about blogger sites like Upworthy, Huffington Post, etc. A woman with three breasts made for a viral but untrue topic – just one of the points made. Fake news got distributed, driving millions to a website. It’s called a fleeting instance of joy in this piece. And there are “viral content warehouses” like Buzz Feed.
Like this post? Tell me what you’d like to see in the next Roundup! Email Julia.

A Blogger’s Kidnapping Prank: When Viral Content Goes Too Far

A Blogger’s Kidnapping Prank: When Viral Content Goes Too Far

Every company wants to have viral content and some may be willing to do whatever it takes. The question posed is whether or not “whatever it takes” is a good notion to have. Many viral video ads out there are hilarious and have converted into incredible sales for companies, but many question the ethics of some of these ads.

Let’s use the example of the Pepsi “Test Drive” ads and discuss if “whatever it takes” should be left to the professionals.

Pepsi Max: Test Drive

We have all seen this video at some point and it is pretty funny. Jeff Gordon dresses up as someone who is interested in buying a car and “kidnaps” the salesman, taking him on a wild ride. We all laughed at it and loved when Jeff Gordon revealed who he was, but some felt sorry for the poor salesman. Some even wondered what else could have happened to the salesman or other unsafe ways he might have reacted. These concerns led to one blogger saying the video was faked. He said the salesman was an actor and “in on it.” He also stated that Jeff Gordon didn’t really do the driving.

The Response

In response to this blogger, Ray Wert (a friend of the blogger) decided to get the ultimate revenge. He had his friend kidnapped by Jeff Gordon and they filmed “Test Drive 2” for Pepsi, proving that this wasn’t a hoax. It was, again, funny and especially entertaining watching revenge being enacted on someone. In this case, the blogger thought he was in the taxi of an ex-convict who decides to run from the police when they pull him over. They ended by driving the taxi to a garage filled with Pepsi logos and told the blogger he had been, well, had.

Should This Be Left to the Professionals?

In short, yes. Pepsi and other companies that have staged these types of pranks have strategies in place. They don’t make the kidnapping public and they do it in a confined area. Just look at how many people it took to pull off the “Test Drive 2” prank. When other companies go about kidnapping, it can cause a negative stir and hurt business. In April 2014, a group decided to film an educational video on child kidnapping and the response of witnesses, according to the Dailydot.com. This left parents enraged when they found out this “prank” had been pulled and it didn’t bode well for the group that performed it. In Australia, five men were arrested for a YouTube kidnapping prank because of an observer calling authorities. It took five months of investigation time to learn what exactly happened before the men were charged with creating a “false belief.” This shows that it takes more than a handful of people to adequately and safely pull off a prank like this; only then do many consider it funny.

Take a Lesson from Spock

Be logical about doing pranks as a form of advertisement. Leave the hilarious ads to the professionals and stay away from causing extreme negative side effects for your company. Just play it safe and find new ways to launch viral content and bring in customers and readers without possibly breaking laws and angering a lot of people.