We live in an age when the value of data, images, and ideologies has surpassed that of material acquisitions and physical territory. (Rushkoff, 1994, p.3) This new space is called the data-sphere. “The data-sphere or “media-space,” is the new territory for human interaction, economic expansion, and especially social and political machination.” (Rushkoff, 1994, p.4) We are all familiar with the examples of media subjects which got suddenly very popular or ‘viral’. How are those popular contents get attention and get viral? How do they manage to spread?

Viral media

Douglas Rushkoff who is an American media researcher introduced a term as ‘viral media’. This term relates to his notion of‘media virus’. As we all know, a virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. It sticks to the host organism and once it sticks, it spreads. Rushkoff says media viruses also spread with the help of networks and data spheres. In this way, it can spread to the whole around the world just like a virus spreading to the human body. The messages in our media come to us packaged as Trojan horses. “They enter our homes in one form, but behave in a different way than we expect once they are inside.” (Rushkoff, 1994, p.7) The only aim of a virus is to spread its own code as far and wide as possible, from cell to cell. Media viruses spread through the data-sphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community. (Rushkoff, 1994, p.9) They spread very fast if they can take our attention, and their success depends on the host organism which is the pop culture.

 He continues with three different types of viruses; Publicity stunts, bandwagon viruses, self-generated viruses. The publicity stunts or ‘activist pranks’ constructed and launched intentionally to spread an idea or product. (Rushkoff, 1994, p.10) Bandwagon viruses are not intentionally launched in the first place, but after the popularisation of the product by the usage of groups. it takes advantage of it. Such as celebrity scandals and news related to the topic. (Rushkoff, 1994, p.11) Finally, the self-generated viruses which are “concepts or events that arise in the media spontaneously, but spread widely because they strike a very resonant chord or elicit a dramatic response from those who are exposed to them.” (Rushkoff, 1994, p.14) 

Spreadable media

Henry Jenkins comes up with another term which is called spreadable media. Jenkins has a different approach to ‘viral’ media. According to him, a close look at particular examples of Internet “memes” or “viruses” highlight the ways they have mutated as they have traveled through increasingly participatory culture. He proposes an alternative model which he thinks Bette accounts for how and why media content circulates at the present time, the spreadable media. (Jenkins, 2008, p.2) A spreadable model emphasises the influence of consumers in shaping the media content, instead of emphasising the direct replication of “memes”.  This model assumes that the repurposing and transformation of media content add value, lets media content to be localised to diverse contexts of use. The concept ‘spreadability’ is “intended as a contrast to previous models of stickiness which emphasise centralised control over distribution and attempts to maintain ‘purity’ of the message.” (Jenkins, 2008, p.3) He also touches to the point that there is differentness between what motivates consumer and producer in the process of spreading content. These differences can be understood in terms of the “contrast between commodity culture and gift culture.” (Jenkins, 2008 p.4) When people share content, they do not have a motivation to profit, they do it because it is meaningful to them either one an individual or social level. As a result of that, he suggests to corporations they should let their brands, products to have an influence from society. Therefore, they should motivate consumers to discuss their products, brands, as well as they should make able their brand to being talked about. 

Nike: This is us.

For instance, this Nike commercial video presents issues about women, equality, and feminism through sports and abilities. It has been published in 2017 and got viral in Turkey. The goal of the commercial was to present the perception of women in Turkey which is passive and weak. It starts with an expression which says “you know us, we have pretty faces”, then the women on the scene stands up and starts to do kick-box. Further, it presents another woman who seems like cooking with her “delicate and weak hands” while actually starts to push up weights. It also presents a woman saying “we, girls love gold” when she wears a gold medal instead of golden accessories. These examples continue until the end of the commercial, in the end, the narrator says, “oh yeah you know us, right?”, and the video ends. The video became very popular since the commercial presented an idea that people can influence feelings, also, it presented a product too. In this way, the product gained a meaning for the consumer, as well as they could talk about it. For example, feminist groups used the commercial for their own case, also, women related the issues represented by video with their own experiences. Therefore, it is possible to see that the success of a commercial depends on multiple different determinants, just as Rushkoff and Jenkins argues.


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

Rushkoff, D. (1994). Media virus! Hidden agendas in popular culture (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books.


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