From Viral Media to Spreadable Media

We live in a world without physical boundaries to share media content with anyone in the world. Our networked society allows us to send music files, videos, images or documents to our friends, family or colleagues that live on the other side of the world within seconds. Power is now based on the accessibility to media and the use social media platforms increases gradually. This information-based society we live in discloses a new kind of space, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff calls the “datasphere” (Rushkoff, 1994, p.6). Each of us is exposed to this mediasphere and we are more or less influenced by the ideas, issues and agendas raised by media events. Rushkoff claims that media events are not just similar to viruses, but they are in fact viruses, since they spread through the datasphere resembling biological viruses spreading through the body. Media material acts as Trojan horse, usually spreading without the user’s conscious consent. All a media virus needs to achieve is to catch our attention, so that we share compelling content. When the virus is attached, the media injects its hidden agenda upon us in form of the ideological code. The equivalent to the biological genes that modify the way we act are memes. These memes can not act fully independently, but can self-replicate themselves through human agency.


What is Viral Marketing?

Many companies make use of the phenomenon that many people share compelling media content with other people. Creating campaigns that go viral is an easy way of making their brands popular, as well as lowering the costs for advertising their brand. The consumer is therefore the most important factor, as he or she is the one adding value to media events, such as ads and campaigns. In this participatory culture we live in, the audience’s choices, investments, and actions determine what gets valued (Jenkins, 2013, p.21). Many videos on social media platforms are therefore strategically placed by a company as part of viral marketing. To illustrate the characteristics of viral media I will introduce Cadbury’s Gorilla advert that was launched in August 2007.  It shows a large gorilla sitting at a drum kit playing along with Phil Collin’s “In the Air Tonight”. The absurd and bizarre setting of the video appealed to millions of people worldwide, the video published on YouTube has nearly 9 Million views and has been shared many times.



The successful British company Cadbury is famous for its Diary Milk chocolate sold in more than 50 countries worldwide. However, there have been several health controversies that lead to a bad reputation in 2006, when a rare strain of Salmonella bacteria was detected in several products. To gain back their prestige, Cadbury launched the advertising campaign Gorilla, which entailed television and cinema sport, as well as prints. The 90-second video that was first released in British television on August 31st achieved 500.000 views after one week. According to the polling company YouGov the public perception of the brand had noticeably improved in the months following the Gorilla campaign, which led to increasing sales. With this creative commercial Cadbury achieved to create a viral marketing campaign. It was not only received well by the British public, but also awarded with several prices.

Marketing Strategy

The idea of this advert was linked to the notion that all communications should be as effortlessly enjoyable as eating a Diary Milk chocolate bar. The facial expressions of the ape exemplify joy and happiness, emotions that are directly projected upon the feeling of eating Cadbury’s products even though the ape does not actually do it in the spot. The choice of the song plays also an important role, as Phil Collins is regarded an iconic British music legend. The campaign contains absurd humour and shows a bizarre scene that does trigger positive feelings. In his work If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead (2008) Jenkins names several factors that describe spreadability. The Gorilla campaign entails some of these attributes, such as absurd humour, expression of nostalgia, and puzzles which encourage us to seek out more information and trigger interest in the brand.

Public Response

The comments on the YouTube video are mostly celebrating the campaign. One user claims that he remembers the advert and the company even years later; other users call it their “favourite commercial”. There have been plenty of parodies, remixes and spoofs that were produced in the last 10 years since the video was first published. Two of the most popular ones on YouTube are the Chewbacca cover and the Wonderbra advert:

Sticky and Spreadable Media

The Gorilla campaign has traits of sticky, as well as spreadable media. Sticky content is often an ad or video that stays in the people’s heads for a long time. Although there might appear remixes and spoofs, the meaning and content of the original medium stays the same. This is the case in the Gorilla video, since the music and the content has not changed. The meaning of spreadable media changes as people pass it on and the original producer is no longer in control. According to the mentioned characteristics identified by Jenkins this campaign could be also seen as spreadable media. To conclude, the Gorilla ad therefore entails sticky content that people want to spread (Jenkins, 2013, p.4).


Jenkins, H., Li, X., & Domb, A. (2008). If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead. Creating Value in a Spreadable Marketplace.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Introduction: Why Media Spread. In Spreadable media: creating value and meaning in a networked culture (pp. 1-46). New York; London: New York University

Rushkoff, D. (1994). Introduction (pp. 3 -16). In: Media virus! Hidden agendas in popular culture (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.

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