5:33PM March 28 2012
Advertisers are increasingly integrating social media and digital communities into their campaigns. TV shows include Twitter hashtags, print ads include QR codes, and so on. This is positive progress from a technical viewpoint, but there are still large divides between digital culture and those unfamiliar with its mores.
Recently, Virgin has been pushing various offerings including broadband, travel and TV. The most widely known ads are those featuring Usain Bolt, but only some people will have seen the billboard ads popping up recently. Does that child look familiar to you? If so you must be a fan of digital culture and recognise ‘Success Kid‘, a popular meme.
The decision by Virgin Media to use Success Kid to promote their HD television products could have easily backfired, causing an outcry from a community that felt plagiarised by a large corporation. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. For example, Berocca came under significant fire upon the release of their ad borrowing heavily from OK Go’s music video.
Fortunately for Virgin Media, this doesn’t appear to be the case. At the time of writing a number of Reddit users, for example, have interpreted this advert as paying homage to their culture, rather than stealing content from it. Perhaps this is due to the product being so closely related to the digital world. Maybe it is due to the strength of Virgin Media’s brand. Maybe it is both and more.
It’s certainly not the first example of a company using an idea born from web culture. Frijj, for example pretty blatantly used, ‘You laugh you lose’ (a meme originally heralding from 4chan.) to create their, ‘You lol you lose’, competition. This campaign has been praised for the most part but mostly due to the use of the technology.
It is good to see examples of web culture bleeding into the real world, and the lines between the two are becoming increasingly blurred every day. Brands should, however, take care when utilising established memes in their ads. Unless they intend to pay homage, they run the large risk of riling a large and very influential community resulting in a PR disaster and potentially lost sales.