Social Viral Spot Award is the Campaign to raise awareness of a critical, controlled and responsible use of the web, aimed at discouraging access to potentially dangerous sites where to find psychoactive substances, financed by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Department for Anti-Drug Policies and conducted by the Consortium of Social Cooperatives il Nodo together with the Enrico Fermi and Filippo Eredia Higher Education Institute of Catania. Launched in March 2018, its finished product was the production of 10 spots with the involvement of pupils, teachers, parents.
How the idea is born
For years, the Consortium Il Nodo has been working in the personal services sector, mainly in the educational sector, accompanying minors and young adults along their growth path. They range from the management of accommodation communities for Italian minors subject to court orders, accommodation communities for unaccompanied foreign minors, flat groups for young adults, youth aggregation centres, home and community-based education projects, street education in at-risk neighbourhoods, projects to combat baby gangs, psycho-educational activities within penal institutions for minors, projects to prevent school drop-out, substance abuse, and to combat illegality and antisocial behaviour.
For years psychologists, pedagogues, social workers and all the professional figures orbiting the world of the Consortium have been asking: “Why do we become attached to a value, a lifestyle, an ideal? Why are others discarded? Why are new ones born? What, in one question, are the mechanisms of transgenerational transmission of values?”
A complex question that finds the answer in a very simple, even banal concept: their desirability.
In order to be effective, an educational message must be appealing to the target population to which it is addressed. If the educational intervention does not take this small but fundamental ingredient into account, any product will be ineffective.
This is often the biggest mistake of education, prevention and social communication campaigns aimed at young people in recent decades. Messages packaged by adults, professionals, with observation summits and communication codes light years away from the new “youth alphabets”. Products that are therefore technically and pedagogically valid but not at all adequate to arouse the curiosity of the young people for whom they were packaged.
If an explanatory and doctrinal approach is already losing out in the “face to face” work setting between educator and adolescent, even more so in the world of social media. A message is discarded within the first few seconds of fruition if it does not correspond to the communicative canons of the medium. And this is increasingly true the more vulnerable a young person is to discomfort and deviance. In other words, the traditional prevention message, the classic progress advertising, is mostly received and appreciated precisely by those who actually have few or no risk indicators.
It is therefore necessary to find awareness-raising channels that are worthy of attention to those who listen to them.
According to this theoretical approach, the Theory of Technique dictates that the research team should also include those who can act as testers of the virality of the product: the campaign users themselves. Teenagers.
Harnessing the skills and passion of teenagers, digital natives, making parents and teachers aware of the indecipherable facets of the web, collecting and processing tools and content from each other, were definitely the recipe for building a viral and at the same time educational communication tool.
Fast as a gentleman
Among the most complex issues that had to be addressed, before beginning the development of the various phases of the project, was certainly the ephemeral and unforeseen nature of the web. If human evolution has seen an exponential growth in the speed with which progress has involved all spheres of life and experience, the web probably represents the current peak of this process. In the web, everything lives intensely, explosively and dynamically for ever shorter periods of time. If the virality range, the time a video spent on the crest of the net wave, up to 6 or 8 years ago, was a few months, today we are even talking about a few hours, if at all, a few days. One moves to ensure that one’s productions can stand out even for a moment in the avalanche of information and content, if one is able that moment can go viral and thus stretch to a few more moments (of attention) on scales, more or less large, locally, nationally or internationally.
To better explain the complexity and speed of viral phenomena, it is worth sketching the parable of the Italian rapper/trapper/songwriter Young Signorino. His is a career completely linked to the publication, around mid-2018, of a couple of video clips with related music tracks on his personal YouTube channel. Tattooed face, mostly incomprehensible lyrics, slurred words, clothing sometimes conspicuously and deliberately frayed and oversized, other times impeccably tight and pulled together. No matter what Young Signorino sings, within a few months his channel reaches millions of viewers who talk about him: some adore him, others insult him.
When, in the last months of 2018, during SVSA’s workshops we confronted young people with respect to the virality parameters of videos aimed at them, Young Signorino was certainly an important, fundamental case study. Everything about him is viral: the rhythms of his music, the way he moves, the iconography of his tattoos, the colours, the setting and atmosphere of his video clips. Certainly, at that time, he is a youth phenomenon of the web, an unprecedented out-sider, the one who questions everything musical-and-not on the scene.
We arrive in January 2020, these are the last months of SVSA, exactly in the middle of the month a video clip is published on the web in which Young Signorino duets with singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela. It is he, the same semi-unknown character to those who had come of age just over a year earlier, who is chosen by one of the most highly-regarded singer-songwriters on the national scene as the co-star of a decidedly more comprehensible piece of music and a more easily decipherable video clip than Signorino’s standard. Capossela, therefore, qualifies Signorino as a singer-songwriter, canonizes him within a section of the market dedicated rather to the parents, if not the grandparents, of the target audience hitherto targeted by the young rapper.
It is not important here to understand, decide or judge whether Capossela’s operation was more artistic or more commercial, what interests our investigation is the speed with which a niche web phenomenon was digested, assimilated and re-proposed on the mainstream market.
In the light of these considerations, a thought, perhaps almost an aphorism, that accompanied the SVSA team throughout the research, development and production of the commercials was: whatever is done, it will already be old before it is published.
During its 24 months of activity, SVSA has benefited from a heterogeneous team composed not only of psychologists, sociologists, pedagogues, musicians, directors, playwrights, and digital communication experts who have alternated, each according to their competences, in the various phases of the project, but also of a large group of adolescents, pupils of the 3rd and 4th classes of the IIS Fermi-Eredia.
The technical staff for the video production component, composed of director Mauro Maugeri, recently awarded at the Venice Film Festival for the work “A lu cielu chianau”, director of photography Premananda Franceschini, finalist at the Nastri d’Argento 2018 with “L’ombra della sposa” by Alessandra Pescetta, playwright Orazio Condorelli, mention at the UBU Award for the direction of the show “Librino” and musician Leandro Blancato, selected for Area Sanremo 2019, ensured the level of the film productions.
Compared to most audiovisual production projects within a school, SVSA made a point of maintaining an adult-youth ratio appropriate to the activity. The minimum number of adult experts was often equivalent to, or slightly lower than, the number of students involved. This made it possible for all the purely cinematographic activities of pre-production (location research, finding objects and costumes, etc.) and production (set construction, lighting, effects, make-up, actors’ direction, etc.) to be carried out with a professional approach, ensuring an aesthetic result that could compete with the levels found on the web.
Another fundamental element was the choice to work only with ad hoc composed music tracks. The soundtracks were conceived while working with the guys and finalised during the editing of the videos. Each track has rhythms, sounds and harmonies inspired by those most in vogue in viral videos that the young people themselves highlighted as such in the first part of the SVSA development process.
Each of the 10 commercials maintained a common structure to serve as a frame in terms of container. A format with a common prologue and epilogue, albeit different each time, and a body with recognisable tones and hues despite the great heterogeneity of its development.
The prologue “speaks” of violent death, a metaphor chosen for its emotional, narrative and visual impact. In several case studies of virality on the web, it is a recurring theme. In SVSA, death is juxtaposed with life, joy, and crazy energy, which are represented in the body and finale of each commercial. We worked by trying to create characters and situations with a surreal, visionary effect and ambiguous and therefore multiple interpretations. The approach was to arouse curiosity, multiply questions, create opportunities for questioning and thus reflection. The rhythm of the editing, the music, the bright colours and strong contrasts were used, recalling the linguistic structure of video marketing, to attract and keep the viewers’ attention.
The commercials have no dialogue, the very few texts are in English (to open up to an international audience) and are conceived as open works, machines for constructing interpretations. The only foothold is a hashtag, a direct and unequivocal statement that, only at the end of each commercial, brings the signifier back to the central meaning, and objective, of the work: LIFE IS MY DRUG. There is no drug that can match the wonders of life.
The non-formal at School
The positive effects that the project’s non-formal approach had on our students were many and important. Increased self-esteem, acquisition of critical thinking, sharing of objectives to be achieved, spirit of belonging, ability to work in a team, consolidation and improvement of interpersonal skills, ability to tell their stories and share experiences with adults, without the fear of being judged: these are some of the achievements.
The non-formal approach to the educational relationship allowed our youngsters to deal with the conscious use of the web in a less stereotypical manner, acquiring greater awareness in decoding and interpreting trendy videos, allowing the strengthening of critical spirit and evaluation skills.
Their involvement was total: fascinated by the film set prepared from time to time, they were instrumental in generating ideas and identifying locations. The professionalism of the project team made all the difference in skilfully drawing out interpretative and expressive skills unimaginable to the children themselves, who contributed significantly to conveying beauty, attractiveness and positivity within the spots.
The project also enriched and strengthened the relationships between students from totally different classes and technical and professional fields. This sense of unity also permeated the relationships established between the pupils of the Institute’s two locations, physically distant from each other, helping to develop a sense of belonging, a fundamental ingredient for an educating community such as the School.
SVSA’s transformative function did not only affect the pupils, it involved the entire school system.
The teachers, who have volunteered free of charge, were able to alternate classic didactic work with moments of intensive work that, thanks to the non-formal methodological summit, allowed them to enter deeply into the new behavioural, relational and communicative codes of the young protagonists.
Last but not least, I would say almost dulcis in fundo, the pleasant and unexpected involvement of the parents who, with enthusiasm and passion, followed the various phases of the project, tried to find the meaning to what on the web seems indecipherable to the eyes of an adult. They espoused the objectives and method of the communication campaign, adding keys that, combined with the others in play, gave life to the social experiment that we present today as the Social Viral Spot Award.
Social Media Strategy
In the social communication strategy, the comparison and contribution of the young people was fundamental, not only with regard to their individual preferences, but above all in relation to their reading of the ‘trends’ on the web, which provided us with important information on the specific target to be reached and how to manage the different channels.
The objective was to reach an audience aged between 13 and 25 years old who would find the style in which the project’s mission was presented appealing, who would be intrigued by the unconventional content and who would express a ‘sentiment’ of any kind, from emotion to reaction, including disapproval and protest.
The communication was conveyed on the Facebook, Instagram and YouTube platforms. The first two recounted, through photographic and video content, precious moments of aggregation, creativity and enthusiasm both during the conception of the campaign and in the creation of the set and during the filming of the 10 spots to which, in addition, we specifically dedicated the Youtube channel.
Followers: Weekly rating 900 users per week, with a projection of more than 25,000 at the end of February 2020 on Facebook and Instagram pages
Total video views: 400,369 (Facebook-Instagram-Youtube)
Total Likes on posts: 60,000
Impressions: 998,179,040 (number of times our content was viewed on the web)