Facebook, Cartoons and Chinese Whispers

A lot of you know that I have a love of all things rainbow-y, what you may not know however is the source of spectrum-aholism.  The blame for that rests at the feet of 1980 Hallmark, and their creation Rainbow Brite… so when a Facebook status suggested I update my profile picture to a “cartoon,” it was hardly as if I needed asking twice.

Last week cartoon characters swept across profile pictures as the Facebook community were asked to change their photo to one of a cartoon from their childhood, in order to… well, that’s where the story comes slightly unstuck.

Whilst I loved seeing Facebook full of Captain Planet, Poddington Peas and Family Ness, the reason behind it all seems somewhat lost in a haze of chinese-whispers…

Stage 1:

Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal is not to see a human face on FB till Monday December 6th. Join the
fight against Child Abuse. Copy & paste to your status to invite your friends to do the same!!

Okay, we’re fighting Child Abuse. Sounds like a pretty sound cause.

It’s an incredibly emotive subject, and so this campaign is an interesting way to get coverage, and to get communities

talking about subjects that are often kept fairly private – and in a nice, non-shocking way.

No, changing your Facebook picture to a smurf isn’t going to rid the world of abused children, but it might make people think more about donating to charities that support victims, and work towards preventing it.

Stage 2:

Changeyour Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your
childhood and invite your friends to do the same, for the NSPCC. Until
Monday (December 6th), there should be no human faces on Facebook, but
an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence

It’s the NSPCC! Of course!  Known for fighting child abuse.  Makes sense.

But the chinese whispers effect is kicking in – “Child Abuse” is too shocking, and here is translated, and mediated by many dots into something slightly more palatable.

Stage 3

Change your facebook profile picture to a
cartoon character from your childhood and invite your friends to do
the same 🙂 until Monday there should be no human faces on facebook,
but an invasion of memories..! This is for a campaign against
violence on children ♥

So, we’ve got a few added smilies and hearts (you can’t forget the smilies and hearts – not in a “Copy And Paste Me” status update) – but most importantly why we’re doing it is clear: Right?

Except for the fact the NSPCC announced on Twitter that they had nothing to do with the campaign…

Whilst it was becoming increasingly more obvious that the campaign was not being strategically lead, by denying any association with it the NSPCC caused a ripple effect across the social sphere…

Which lead rather tragically to Stage 4:

People are being urged not to change there profile pictures too caroon characters as it has nothing to do with the nspcc or child viloence its actually a group of peadophile s using it as it a tool because children are accepting friend reuests quicker and more often as they are seeing a cartoon and not a profile pictur…e, its been on the news RESEARCH IT copy and paste to let everyone no about these sick people

Rather than accept that this campaign had grown organically, and was actually being a positive influence, the whispers machine goes into over-drive.  Somewhere out there on the World-Wide-Web someone either got scared, or decided to cause some damage.  Suddenly, all the cute fuzzy faces of Care Bears staring out of profile pictures became masks for something a lot more sinister.  Personally I see that there is very little logic in what the Stage 4 status suggests… but it did succeed in dampening the flood of cartoons.

To me, what this whole saga proves is that Facebook campaigns like this really do have the power to go viral – spreading you message around the world in a matter of minutes.  No matter who started this campaign it did raise awareness and profile of the NSPCC and similar charities. But what this campaign also proves is that it is also important to ensure that built into your strategy is a way for people to find out more, a way to keep them engaged with the campaign, the message and to get involved more deeply with the focus charity and cause.

This campaign wasn’t just about cartoons, and because it wasn’t led and managed it lost control. If you start a viral campaign, you need to make sure that it is your message that goes viral with it.



4 thoughts on “Facebook, Cartoons and Chinese Whispers

  1. Nicely put. That’s why these campaigns do my head in and why I posted a rather sarcastic update to my own Facebook page this week.

    I love the idea of viral facebook campaigns and tapping into childhood is a great, emotive way to do it. But if you don’t even know who it’s for…??

  2. Hi Paul,

    I’m glad you think so – they drive me crazy too!

    I can’t deny that they do have a positive impact, but there’s something about this type of campaign that comes across as very superficial!


  3. Hi Abi,

    I’m not sure I know what you mean. All the statuses in this blog were taken from statuses that appeared in my Facebook news stream – so they were being used by facebook users. But whether what they say is ‘true’ to be honest, I doubt it…


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