Why Are NekNominations a Viral Phenomenon?

There is a lot of controversy around the latest viral phenomenon that is the Neck and Nominate fad. For those that are unaware, NekNominations are a global viral drinking game where the nominee consumes a large amount of alcohol in a single gulp, and nominates two of their friends to follow suit. All of this is of course captured on video and posted on social media for the world to see (possibly something that can be added to your LinkedIn page for prospective recruiters).

Not shockingly, the social craze has received a lot of media criticism especially with some of the videos beginning to fall on the extreme side. Recently, an Australian business man cut the head off of a bird, ate its entrails and knocked back a pint of gin garnished with a live gold fish, before jumping off a cliff. This digital “one-upmanship” has sadly led to the reported deaths of a number of young adults in Australia and the UK.

Whilst there is a broader moral issue to be discussed around the concept and practice of the NekNomination, it is not one that I could hope to address in a 10,000 word paper let alone a blog post of a couple hundred words.

What interests me is the adoption of the concept in South Africa and an analysis of why and how the phenomenon lends its self to digital virality.

It would be amiss to not mention how the concept has evolved in South Africa into a charitable one, with South Africans not nominating acts of binge drinking and extreme stupidity, but rather random acts of kindness in their stead. Although this is a turn for the better, the focus remains on creating original content that is sharable often at the expense of the kind act. This has resulted in some unfortunate videos that do nothing more than illustrate how some South Africans are completely disconnected from issues facing South Africans living below the breadline.

One example shows a (no doubt wealthy) South African girl teaching a homeless man yoga, because being centred is of the utmost importance when your near emaciated body is unsure of where the next meal might come from. Another is a nomination activated by a banking brand that used more money to promote the video than to activate the charitable act itself. Because what does a charitable act benefit you as a brand if the world doesn’t see just how charitable you are? Right?

Perhaps more significant than the slew of criticism and the unfortunate stories that surround the concept is the lesson that can be learned about human behaviour and virality. The viral success of the phenomenon is based on a number of tactics that new media specialists utilise to gain traction for their online campaigns.

The NekNomination is an amalgamation of tried and tested marketing elements that lend themselves to shareable content. The three most significant factors being digital peer pressure, digital urgency and hyper personalisation.

Digital peer pressure has been used in an extremely positive way by brands and marketers to get people healthy and fit. A great example is the emergence of a new hashtag #TagYoureFit, fuelling the increasingly popular health trend in South Africa. This trend of healthy living has seen a massive take up in activities like road running and cycling especially among young professionals. The trail is our generations golf course; if you’re not on it you’re missing out on a  great networking opportunity.

Digital urgency is another tool in a digital marketer’s arsenal that has led to some award winning campaigns. More and more retailers and brands are using technology and clever tactics to launch time sensitive offers that lure consumers into immediate decisions. A great example is Meat Pack’s award winning Hijack campaign. There is nothing new about the limited time offer but by augmenting it with clever tactics like digital peer pressure or mobile technology, consumers feel the need to act quicker than ever before.

These two tactics coupled with the personalisation of calling out individuals appeal to everyone’s need for acceptance and fame- nobody wants to be picked last. By targeting individuals, you are calling them out, acknowledging them, identifying them as special. This makes it difficult as the nominee not to respond with some kind of act acknowledging the fact that we have indeed been acknowledged. If you have any doubt in the power of personalisation, you need only have visited Sandton City on the weekend where 100’s of people queued in the open court to get their name pasted on to the side of a beverage can.

It’s easy to berate something as childish and possibly dangerous as the concept of the NekNomination, but it is certainly more productive to understand the appeal of the phenomenon as a call to action. When we start asking why we act, we can better understand what content serves our need states in a more productive way.

Written by Jared Carneson

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