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This week Marshal McLuhan’s vision for a “Global Village” was taken to a new level, that of a global oesophagus. The world was thrust into a new age of unity as nations threw aside their differences to partake in the ultimate sign of togetherness… one intercontinental gag reflex.
I’m talking of course, about the latest viral “sensation” (if that is the correct term) of a girl eating a used tampon. These “shock” videos crop up every few months online, with some vanishing into the depths of 4chan and others skyrocketing to the fame of South Park parodies (e.g. Two Girls One Cup et al.) – the highest honour for internet videos .
Now you may be thinking to yourself: “I came to this blog to read poorly worded dross about PR, not to divulge in internet filth”. Well, my uptight friend, you would be wrong.
“That’s the beauty of the internet as a democratising tool. We all get to wallow in the depravity together – as equals”
In my semi-illiterate opinion, as persuaders we must experience all aspects of the tools we intend to use; to do so we must crawl into the damp and sometimes festering minds of our target audiences. Basically, to truly understand the average internet users, we must truly use the internet ourselves. And by “use” the internet I don’t mean creating an account on Pinterest, or signing up to Farmville. I mean engaging on the level of an actual digital native from Generation Z.
So who is Generation Z?
Born post-1995 these individuals grew up on the internet, knowing only the days of 9Gag and 4Chan. To paraphrase Generation Z social psychologist Bane (2012): “You merely adopted the internet. We were born into it, moulded by it. I saw nothing but pixels until I was already a man” (Yes, it’s from Batman).
At this point, many marketers may argue that the sorts of people watching videos like “Girl Eats Tampon” are not their target audience. To think that though, is to fundamentally misunderstand the new generation of viral web users. The people watching these videos aren’t some depraved group of psychopaths and nerds, nor are they thrill-seeking jocks. These videos are everywhere, and are watched by everyone …That’s kind of why they’re called viral.
Take the creatively named “Girl Eats Tampon” video. From your 14 year old daughter to your friendly teenage postman, they’ve all seen it. Everyone’s seen it. Hell I’ve seen it, and I’m not remotely cool. If anything, that’s the beauty of the internet as a democratising tool. We all get to wallow in the depravity together – as equals.
Generation Z are used to having everything on the go and at the push of a button… And I mean everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s streaming Hannah Montana or hardcore coprophilia, the content is irrelevant, it’s the access that counts. There is an expectation for total and utter inclusion.
But maybe it’s not simply Generation Z, maybe it’s just part of the current viral phenomenon? We have to see these videos because everyone’s seen them, a kind of international peer pressure. Yet our inclusion must go further than this. We can’t just watch the video, we have to share it.
It is this ‘shareability’ which creates the fundamental feature making these videos quite so repulsive. The perception of truth.
You see, any of these videos could be easily faked. Such potential for fakery allows most people to gloss-over what they see and continue with their lives. And yet, thanks to the sharability of these creations, we don’t want them to be fake. If they’re fake then we’ve been duped; our sharing has been nothing more than the spread of a lie, and we feel like fools.
By sharing these videos we are making a commitment to their truth, a commitment we have to stand by. If we stop believing that they’re real, then they lose their ‘magic’ (I use “magic” in the least Disney sense of the term).
In sharing these videos we are trying to be part of something, even if that something is nothing more than a co-experienced repulsion.
So as PR people, what can we take away from this (other than my blog’s characteristic feeling of lost-innocence and despair?). The first thing it suggests is that Generation Z can’t get enough of shock value; it’s viral, it’s memorable and it underpins an entire sub-culture online. The second thing it suggests is that in the internet age our measly piss-poor attempts at “shock tactics” will never, ever, really work.
What on earth are we thinking?! How can we try and use shock tactics on a generation who grew up in a culture of purebred NSFW? We couldn’t even hope to compete. This generation has seen debauchery in its basest form, and you know what they did? They laughed it in the face and clicked the share button.
So the next time your PR agency or environmental group is thinking of putting together a ‘shock tactics’ campaign online – take five minutes out of your day to watch a girl eat a tampon …then consider who you’re trying to shock.