April 2013
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This viral ad may be contagious
A new sea view
75 years of coelacanth research
Sell your science at FameLab
Young science communicators show their mettle
Brazil nuts, bees and orchids
Winning design powers aeroplane
Journalists and scientists meet
Brainstorming solutions for tomorrow
Meet Sibongile Mokoena
SAIAB at Scifest Africa
A world in one cubic foot
Biodiversity Youth Symposium
Daveyton now has an eye to the sky
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

Beware folks, this viral ad may just be contagious ...

  At the time of publication the YouTube advert had 4 196 hits and the SAASTA-posted advert 481; a whopping total of 4 677 hits.
  Flashy and fast hybrid car.
  The viral ad storyboards.
Viral advertising is a whole new ball game. And if science wants to be noticed, it will have to join the frenzy.

A viral campaign is out of the box marketing that is so cool and hip that people want to pass it on to friends via social networks and other electronic media, hence the comparison with the spread of viruses.

The Hydrogen South Africa Public Awareness and Demonstration Platform, managed by SAASTA on behalf of the Department of Science and Technology, is now using this innovative way to inform people about research into hydrogen powered vehicles.

SAASTA commissioned Rooftop Productions, a company in Port Elizabeth to produce a viral ad that is fun but provides correct, responsible information on hydrogen and fuel cells research. This clip is now available on YouTube.

The video features scientists engaged in a race with two radio-controlled cars in a laboratory - one a conventional radio-controlled car and the other using hybrid fuel technology.

Why this campaign?

"Viral media has the potential to reach a massive audience through social media platforms at a low cost. The challenge is to develop a viral ad that will gain enough appeal to warrant such exposure," says Lorenzo Raynard, Manager of SAASTA's Science Communication Unit.

SAASTA's inputs were extensive throughout the production process. Given the potential of this platform, SAASTA felt it necessary to explore what makes up the intricacies of viral media as a pioneering exercise for science communication in South Africa. According to Lorenzo, the combined Rooftop Productions/SAASTA team very quickly learnt that a great deal is involved in conceptualising a viral media campaign.

From the onset and following the review of a number of successful viral ads, the team realised that more emphasis should be placed on entertainment than on the promotion of a government department, an institution or programme. They opted to use a number of themes on which to build the concept.

The overall concept is the racing of hybrid and conventional powered remote/radio controlled cars. To this they added the current debate whether there could be any fun/humour in the exploration of scientific discoveries. They played off the current context of the real disparities that exist in our academic world - race (the aging white male researcher versus the younger generation of female researchers, with this the attempt at addressing diversity in the academic landscape, the popular impression of the scientists dressed in a white lab coat, etc.)

More subtly, the team needed to juxtapose the victory associated with the winning of the hybrid car with South Africa's successful participation in a global knowledge economy. They attempted to play with perceptions of South Africa being seen as the Third World country that is struggling to compete in the innovation landscape and which is only seen as a provider of raw natural resources for processing and application by the rest of the developed world. Later in the viral ad they specifically refer to South Africa's position within the international arena of hydrogen fuel cell research and application.

"While discussing all messages that could possibly come through in a two-minute or less viral ad, we quickly realised that we will have to focus on a few key messages only," says Lorenzo. "We opted to go for a high quality production 'look and feel' because of the potential to have the production advertised on mainstream public and private broadcasters. We also wanted the message to hold value for both local and international audiences."

Lessons learnt

It is SAASTA's responsibility to ensure that all messages remain accurate, responsible and reliable. For this reason, the content of the information was circulated among content specialists to ensure that all scientific reference, however brief or miniscule, remains accurate. The reasoning behind this was that while a lay person may not necessarily pay attention to the details of any of the actual graphs that are quickly glanced over, a negative comment on the viral ad by a content specialist on a public platform has the potential to disqualify the ad completely.

The team presented the final production at a Southern African Association of Science and Technology Centre (SAASTEC) conference workshop in November 2012. Feedback from the workshop participants prompted them to move the animation where scientific illustrations are provided on how exactly hydrogen is converted into electricity, to the end of the video. This allows the users to understand how long this section of the clip would be and make the decision if they wish to continue watching or not.

A great deal of detail has to go into drafting the specifications for developing a viral campaign. In addition, consideration must be given to where and when the campaign will be launched and how this will be done.

Knowledge shared

In a highly successful workshop at the SAASTEC conference, Lorenzo and Rooftop Productions demonstrated how the science outreach and awareness community can use viral media as a tool to communicate science. In this group activity with the delegates, viral media concepts including flash media and viral media marketing platforms were explored with the objective to break the ice, demystify viral media and look at how it may possibly be used in the science centre environment.

By Ina Roos, SAASTA