Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Social Media to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

On Saturday, October 30, 2010 the world was witness to the 'Rally to Restory Sanity and/or Fear'. The event, masterminded by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, took place in Washington D.C. and was branded as an (supposedly) epic struggle of Good Vs. Evil, Sanity Vs. Fear, Reason Vs. Paranoia. Well, Stewart Vs. Colbert at least.

Parodying some recent developments in U, S and A and the modern world's obsession with irrational fears fed by the all-powerful media spreading hysteria across societies, the Comedy Central's dynamic duo took their sarcastic act from the TV studios to the famous lawns of the American capital in front of a (modestly) roaring crowd. In addition to what was an entertaining offline event, the online generation of social media buzz around the Sanity and/or Fear rally makes up for a great case study.

Being masters of messaging, the two comedians had their cleverly crafted punch lines disseminated across multiple channels. Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity campaign argued:
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Who among us has not wanted to open their window and shout that at the top of their lungs?
Seriously, who?
Because we’re looking for those people. We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.
Are you one of those people? Excellent. Then we’d like you to join us in Washington, DC on October 30 — a date of no significance whatsoever — at the Daily Show’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

But Colbert would have none of the sanity. The March to Keep Fear Alive campaign, fired back ferociously:
"America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear — forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget — “Reason” is just one letter away from “Treason.” Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance."
Online the battle for Sanity and/or Fear was fought mainly on four social networking sites: Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare and Flickr. On Twitter it was the battle of the hashtags #rally4sanity Vs. #keepfearalive while on FourSquare it was the battle of the check-ins for either March for Fear or Rally for Sanity. On Facebook, you could choose to Keep Fear Alive or to Restore Sanity.

A neat plug-in on the campaign website showed dynamic stats on the number of Foursquare check-ins: the world could watch in awe on whether the Americans were rallying for Sanity and/or Fear.

But the real cool stuff came with the Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear iPhone app. It was all simple and straightforward. Good User eXperience.  

But what makes any online social media campaign truly successful is when there's an equally engaging offline social experience happening simultaneously. The one feeds off the other turning it into a virtuous (or vicious!) cycle. And then you have all the more tweets, status updates and content generating buzz online. And this again draws in the crowds offline too.

While I'm not going to cover the actual event in detail, I must admit that I thought the start was brilliant where Stephen Colbert, supposedly panicking in a cave 2000ft beneath the stage in the bedrock, finally came up on stage to a Chilean miner sort of a scene in one of those capsules draped in a flag of Chile. My favorite moment, however, was seeing Cat Stevens a.k.a. Yusuf Islam go head to head with Ozzy Osbourne. Stewart invited Yusuf on stage to restore sanity by performing his hit single Peace Train only to be interrupted by Colbert, who brought out Ozzy to freak the crowd out for fear. Apparently the lyrics of his song were about a train going off the rails... Here's the clip:

There were other interesting developments happening around the whole crazy and/or normal affair. Huffington Post apparently brought over around 10,000 New Yorkers to the rally also handing out free "flipcams" to generate some User Generated Video. Apparently they were given the task of telling to the world "what they would do 'to restore sanity' in America". This and much more is featured in the Huffington post.

But behind all the jokes, Colbert's usual overacting and Stewart's always sarcastic punch lines there was a more serious socially driven message: to make people question all those black and white stereotypes spread in the media and simply use some good old reason. I agree. People should spend a lot more time pondering over some of the subliminal messages portrayed in the media how accurate are they at the end and what is their impact on our world?

But what about the responsibility of the media itself? Living in the age of social media, the Sanity and/or Fear angle portrayed is instantly amplified in online social networks turning things into a Virtuous and/or Vicious cycle. Those working in media surely should take their responsibility more seriously. Image is for many, like it or not, everything in the 21st Century world.

The full event should be available to watch here.

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