I have spent way more than my fair share of time at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) over the last few years. In fact, I am such a regular that my phone thinks I work there and for the life of me I can’t figure out how to dissuade it of that notion.
Earlier this year, my daughter had the opportunity to give something back to CHEO by participating in the Ward+Robes video. This ongoing project is a collaborative effort between the Starlight Children’s Foundation, CHEO, six Canadian artists and Rethink a Toronto-based advertising agency whose purpose is to design and produce unique gowns for hospitalized teens that are reflective of their personalities and individual characters. These new designs with any luck will over time replace the standard issue blue robes we have all grown to hate.
The initiative went live in mid-July with an article in the Globe and Mail as well as a YouTube video launch. Neither of these two events garnered much traction from what I could tell and I pretty much forgot about the whole thing until about a week later my daughter was stopped by a stranger at CHEO who congratulated her for her part in the video. I dismissed this as a polite, if not an inside baseball kind of acknowledgment but my curiosity got the better of me late last week I Googled the project and was quite literally blown away by the response. The story has been picked up by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Up Worthy, Now This, Bored Panda, the Scary Mommy blog and probably of greatest significance to her, Teen Vogue with countless reblogs and mainstream media reports worldwide.
As of this morning, the Huffington Post 5.8 million views an increase of 3 million views since the August long weekend. I now find myself just a little bit obsessed and I keep checking the number of hits and how many different languages I can find the story in and from what countries. This isn’t a vanity project to placate teens as some of the online critics have suggested, it is a fundraising effort and an open call to designers and artists from everywhere to come forward with their own creative ideas for new gowns. The goal is to have people donate as little as one dollar so that gowns can be produced and given free of charge to hospitalized teens in Canada to help them get through their medical challenges. Click here for more information on the project. Whether you think this is laudable or not is a different matter entirely and if you are going to suggest that sick kids need to suck it up, be forewarned I will go all mama tiger on you.
I don’t have any access to any empirical data that would measure the efficacy of the video in financial terms but if success is simply based on the number of views it has a great ROI. Quite apart from my tangential relationship with the project, I really want to know what it is about this video which can be seen here has caused it to grow legs. The teens featured are relatively diverse in terms of ethnic background and gender, some with very visible health issues and others where no indication is given so it isn’t simply a case of medical voyeurism. The gowns themselves reflect many cultural traditions, tattoo art, animal motifs, and camouflage so there isn’t a captive audience for any one type of design and despite the fame of some of the designers, I don’t think, notwithstanding their own reputations and existing portfolios, they could draw the kind of numbers that this video has racked up in the past three weeks. It might be in the absence of any good news lately that people are hungry for something beyond the vitriol and tragedy that has been in the news of late. After having viewed the video, I would be curious to know why you feel this campaign has gone viral. Is it because we are hungry for something positive? Is it a “there but for the grace of the God” go I sentiment?
All of this got me wondering how much psychology goes into the production of videos or in other words how much is luck and how much is manipulation? In Contagious: Why Things Catch On the author argues that the most shared content had to evoke strong emotions in the reader or viewer. Obviously, the goal is to create a video that will go viral but if it were simple everyone would have viral hits on their hands. If you were in charge of creating a video and social media campaign for Ward+Robes, what if anything would you have done differently? Have you ever felt manipulated by an advertising campaign?