What colour is this dress?! Lessons about social media marketing and viral content

Today the internet (and my head) blew up, all because of this dress.

I logged onto Facebook this morning and saw a status update from a friend in New Zealand, which said she and her colleagues were about to get into a major fight over the colour of this dress.

She shared a Buzzfeed article, which had grabbed the image from Tumblr, where the original poster had swiked it. The poster asked the Tumblr community to help settle an argument between her and a friend on the colour of the dress… and the whole internet subsequently exploded and went totally bat**** insane.

So, what does this mean? On one hand it means people are crazy and the GODDAMN DRESS IS BLUE AND GOLD/BROWN (sorry…) but mostly it means that people are different, and we view things differently – theoretically, metaphorically and, apparently, physiologically.


Differences, debate and arguments tend to be something avoided when it comes to marketing. Brands want to push out an idea or a product that most people agree is something inherently good or useful. But perhaps we’re all missing the point. Maybe the most viral social campaigns, images or articles are the ones that turn us against each other.

From a content point of view, debate is healthy. It’s the reason why newspaper and magazine columnists become famous – they have successfully polarised their audience to a stage where people read what they have to say because they love them, or because they hate them.

The argument over the colour of the dress exploded (#TheDress is currently the top trending hashtag on Twitter) for three reasons:

  1. Differences of opinion
  2. Shareability
  3. Education

In a nutshell: it went viral because no one can agree, it’s a simple image that’s easy to share, and everyone is learning something new.

It shocked people, and so the audience went looking for answers. (An explanation is here, by the way. You’re welcome. And yes, I do have superior eyesight.)

From a marketing point of view, this is the exact reaction you want to elicit from people during your campaigns. When designing a message to go viral, consider the following:

Why are you doing this? What is your goal?

If you just want to create something funny, you can, but how viral it goes depends on your objective. This can be simple, such as “get people to donate money”. Keep it simple.

Is it fun?

Social media exists because it’s informative, but also because it’s fun. Both aspects need to be leveraged in a visual manner, and this will happen faster if what you are marketing has an element of fun.

Is it shareable and does it create discussion?

Make sure your idea or campaign can be shared on multiple platforms with a click, and consider its capacity for involving other people. Things like the Ice Bucket Challenge worked because it required tagging other people to ‘pass on’ the challenge to next.

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