This article originally appeared in Marketing magazine
The Canadian Safe School Network – ‘Kids Read Mean Tweets’
Anyone who frequents YouTube’s frontpage is likely to be familiar with the ‘Celebrities Read Mean Tweets’ web-series. Even if you’ve never watched a single video, the catchy, click-happy title explains itself perfectly. A highly viral segment on US talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show, the clips feature famous faces taking turns to read aloud the worst the internet can throw at them. Recent editions have featured the likes of Britney Spears, Adam Sandler and President Barack Obama. Yes, even him.
What makes ‘Celebrities Read Mean Tweets’ so consistently popular? For a start, it provides a unique cocktail of self-deprecation and super-fame that’s surprisingly winning. Whether you call it empathy or schadenfreude, there’s something bizarrely comforting in knowing even Chris Pratt and Benedict Cumberbatch get a little bummed out about strangers having a dig. With the series totalling views in the hundreds of millions, there’s evidently a popular desire to see online vitriol displayed for all to see. Taking Jimmy Kimmel’s lead, a new PSA turns that instinct to more conscientious ends.
The Canadian Safe School Network may not have the same clout as a chat show host, but their new spot ‘Kids Read Mean Tweets’ packs a surprising punch.
Aping the style of Kimmel’s series, from the colourful title card to the laugh track and even the red brick background, the producers have produced a video that stands in ably for its star-studded counterpart. However, as the title suggests, this version alters the tone by having schoolkids read the mean tweets their peers have sent them. Instead of slightly smug celebrities shaking off jibes with a LA smile, we’re made to confront what cyber bullying looks like for most people, most of the time.
Beginning with the laugh track cranked up to sitcom levels, the participants face the camera and read the offending tweets. The scope of these comments varies, from racism and bodyshaming, to misogyny and personal attacks. One, read by a tearful young girl, simply reads ‘You’re a huge loser’. As the tenor of the comments, and the kids’ reaction to them, changes, the laughter track gradually fades. The final tweet is read to a brutal, definitive silence and the reader leaves shot. A title card reads ‘Cyber bullying is no joke’.
Technically and referentially clever, ‘Kids Read Mean Tweets’ succeeds primarily on its emotional power. While some of the kids laugh off their insults like the celebrities in the original video, the camera lingers on the effects of these words. The PSA also bears striking similarity to the Fine Bros’ ‘Kids React To…’ YouTube series, which similarly casts young children as talking heads in documentary clips.
Ranging from the silly to the serious, the videos partially explain the sharing success of Canadian Safe School Network’s spot. It simply and beautifully combines the internet’s mash-up ethos with a strong message and genuine emotion.
In our last column, we also singled out another PSA as a strong example of shareable video content. While PSAs certainly aren’t the only successful video campaigns right now, charitable spots from The Collective Projective, Ad Council and even mock-PSAs like Durex’s ‘#Connect’ continue to ride high on Unruly’s Viral Video Chart. So what can mainstream brands learn from the viral moment PSAs are having? The answer seemingly lies in the synthesis of clever, up-to-date production and content that understands the sharing power of emotion.