What city should you really live in? What career should you actually have? What is your colour? What actor would play you in the movie version of your life? We’ve likely all seen similar questions poke up in our Facebook feeds recently. The unstoppable rise of the online quiz is an interesting cultural phenomenon, but it also has a potentially dark side from marketing a perspective.
Let’s stay light initially before we dive to the dark side.
Quizzes are irresistible shiny objects. Even before the internet and the insatiable sharing of surveys via Facebook, few people could resist a magazine’s promise of a quiz within. Quizzes allow us to reflect on who we are. They are a platform for social comparison, making it easy to categorize us. They provide instant affirmation that we share characteristics with others. It’s human nature to want to compare.
Buzzfeed.com is the author of many of the current quizzes making the rounds. They were the creator of the viral hit “What city should you actually live in?” that rocketed to over 20 million views. For the record, I got New York, but I do love my home – Vancouver. Buzzfeed is a quickly growing news and entertainment website, and with the added draw of quiz authorship, they have increased site visits to over 130 million per month. Not a bad business model. Without exception their quizzes are upbeat, light hearted, fun, and whimsical. They are usually quick to complete and visual. They offer a simple distraction in an otherwise complex world. On some level they tap Freud’s displacement theory, an unconscious process where your psyche transfers ideas and emotions away from things that cause anxiety and towards things that are superficial and distracting. In quizzes we distract ourselves with meaningless categorization in a world of information overload. While Buzzfeed is one of the most prominent authors of quizzes out there http://www.buzzfeed.com/quiz Facebook too has gotten in on the popularity of authoring quizzes. https://apps.facebook.com/qbquizzes/
Now on to the dark side…
The Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union put together a campaign to raise awareness of privacy issues surrounding Facebook applications, and in particular quizzes. They believe millions of Facebook users taking quizzes are inadvertently revealing far more personal information than they are aware of. Quiz developers have access to all your profile information whether or not it is set to private. If you shun quizzes yourself, your profile information can still be revealed when one of your friends takes a quiz. This in itself should be reason for sober second thought before taking a quiz, especially if quiz application developers were to have an ulterior motive. But it’s an even graver concern for how quiz profile information, however flaky and random it may initially appear, when aggregated against your preexisting social graph, could begin to reveal a valuable method of profiling consumers for the companies financial gain. Facebook has said it has a vested interest in increasing its share of mobile delivered sponsored content, and the resulting advertising revenue, which is currently more than half of total revenue. To do that, they intend to increase the relevance of newsfeed ads, rather than boosting the amount of ads. They’re calling that nascent search. It could also be called stalking. And it appears that our participation in quizzes is feeding the very information machine to make that all the more possible. I freely admit there is some speculation on my part about this, but knowing the motives for collecting information, I think as consumers and as marketers we at least owe it to ourselves to consider the possibility of what is going on here.
Facebook’s collection of profile data, combined with predictive analytics, and location based mobile devices, has rendered the appeal of sponsored post advertising possibilities dizzying. The seemingly innocuous quiz may well be adding to that data warehouse in the sky.
Or we could just lighten up, and have fun with it all.
I do think quizzes have great potential to engage an audience. Gamification of learning and delivery of content is an emerging trend area to watch. I’ve used game mechanics in presentations to engage and involve audiences with great success. I think the same concepts could be applied to business websites and enewsletters.
And if I haven’t scared you off too much and you’re craving some Freudian displacement theory based escapism, here a list of top quizzes to check out: http://www.buzzfeed.com/tag/quiz
Or have a look at this light-hearted spin on all this as Ellen riffs on Buzzfeed quizzes: http://www.ellentv.com/videos/0-v3ke3pc5/
What do you think about quizzes? Do you participate in them? Do you believe there might be an ulterior motive behind them, especially when authored by Facebook? Or perhaps you accept that a certain amount of profiling is taking place, and you just don’t worry about it?