“Stoner Sloth”: Lessons from Evaluation of Social Media and Virality

Peter Lang
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Public Relations Case Studies from Around the World (2nd Edition), 2017, 2nd, pp. 147 - 165
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In November 2015 the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Premier and Cabinet launched a digital campaign using social media, websites, and paid online search to reduce the incidence of recreational use of Cannabis among 14–18 year olds – the age range identified as the period in which people are most likely to first try recreational drugs. Media metrics and social media tracking of the campaign found that it was perceived to be ‘fun’ but ‘credible’ and was widely shared within the target audience in its first month when messages were highly targeted through special youth sites and paid search. But in mid-December when the videos and GIFs featured in the campaign went ‘viral’ attracting more than 3.5 million views in a few weeks, the campaign received widespread criticism in traditional media and more than 30,000 comments on social media, most of them negative. It was labelled “one of the worst campaigns of 2015” in newspaper headlines and the government terminated the campaign in mid-January 2016 and ordered a detailed independent evaluation . Subsequent in-depth quantitative and qualitative evaluation showed that the ‘edgy’ youth campaign did in fact achieve many of its objectives among 14–18 year olds, causing them to ‘think twice’ about using Cannabis and reducing perceptions that using the drug was ‘cool’. However, the campaign raised major questions about the common view that ‘going viral’ is positive (Godin, 2001; ImagePro, 2016) and provides lessons for planning digital campaigns.
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