Me, Me, Me! What can content marketing learn from #thedress?

By Posted in - ALL & Content Strategy & Examples & Social Media on March 14th, 2015 0 Comments

Occasionally an internet meme comes along that is so significant that it warrants a closer look. As content marketers we’d be fools not to take a step back and reflect on the sensation of #thedress.

In case you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past couple of weeks, this meme originated from a photo published on Tumblr at the end of February 2015 of a dress, with a view to settling a seemingly simple argument: is the dress black/blue, or is the dress gold/white? Sounds simple, but the problem is that people were completely divided in their opinion.

With BuzzFeed picking up on the discussion and running with it, #thedress quickly became a viral sensation, dividing opinion around the world. Hell,¬†marriages even ended over the arguments that ensued, and babies will be born in November over the new allegiances that were formed (I made this up, don’t quote me on this).

So, like any good content marketer, I’m interested in digging into this a bit further to get to the bottom of why this became the viral sensation that it was. Here’s why, and what I think we can learn from this…

1. Simplicity
It was a single image, nothing more. All you had to do was look at it and say which colours you saw. The simplicity of the question and the task asked of us as viewers of this piece of content made the call to action easy for us to complete.

Lesson: in content marketing, if we’re asking our audiences to act, we must keep it as simple as possible. Ask a simple question that has a simple answer, make the call to action easy (a single click, for example), and make the content that drives the call to action simple too (a single image, a short video, for example).

2. Controversy
#thedress represents a content marketer’s dream of controversy. Many of my clients are risk-averse, so getting them to create controversy is always tricky as they don’t want to be seen to be causing trouble. This image hit gold (or blue) by introducing that little gem – harmless controversy.

Lesson: controversy causes people to discuss and give something their attention and opinions, as well as seeking verification from others (hence the social sharing element to this – they are asking people to support their case). Aiming for the golden “harmless controversy” is a good target for content marketers to aspire to.

3. A Glorious Follow-Up – “I’m so clever”
It didn’t just stop at the controversy. The meme was boosted and followed up by explanations, lessons and the science of just why we couldn’t agree on this. By turning this into a fascinating learning experience, we made people feel that they were genuinely becoming more intelligent as a consequence of continuing to engage with the content.

Lesson: people love to feel (and be!) intelligent. Providing them with content that makes them feel clever, and – better still – be able to show their friends how clever they are, can be a winner for content marketing. But you have to pitch it just right (too “clever” and they might not understand it at all).

4. It’s All About ME!
This is the killer. The meme wasn’t about a dress at all. The image of the dress was just the catalyst. The meme itself was about every single person looking at the image and talking about it. In other words, it wasn’t about the picture, it was about how you saw the picture. It was a reflection on your self and your identity, and above all it provided the safety of being different while also being part of a socially connected group (the white/gold camp or the blue/black camp). Whether you saw black/blue or white/gold has become the recent equivalent of asking someone if they’re a “dog person” or a “cat person”.

Lesson: people adore and share content that is actually about them or a reflection on them – it plays to their sense of self and their identity. The absolute holy grail of content marketing is about creating content that people see as being about themselves. Make it about them and they’ll gravitate towards it and – most likely – will share it.

And so, as the meme dies out and the lessons are learned and adopted into content marketing approaches, here’s a little something from CollegeHumor just to follow up with for fun. Enjoy.

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