Tag Archives: viral marketing

New York Magazine thinks we’re being too harsh on Upworthy

Much of Upworthy’s content does feel like reality TV. A lot of it also feels like advertising. This isn’t an accident; the site’s built, tactically and deliberately, to appeal to what skeptics once called the lowest common denominator. Its choices are the ones you’d normally associate with a race to the bottom—the manipulative techniques of ads, tabloids, direct-mail fund-raising, local TV news (“Think This Common Household Object Won’t Kill Your Children? You’d Be Wrong”). It’s just that Upworthy assumes the existence of a “lowest common denominator” that consists of a human craving for righteousness, or at least the satisfaction that comes from watching someone we disagree with get their rhetorical comeuppance. They’ve harnessed craven techniques in the service of unobjectionable goals—“evergreen standards like ‘Human rights are a good thing’ and ‘Children should be taken care of’ ”—on the logic that “good” things deserve ads as potent as the “bad” ones have. “I think marketing in a traditional sense, for commercialism—marketing to get you to buy ­McDonald’s or something—is crass,” says Sara Critchfield, the site’s editorial director. “But marketing to get people’s attention onto really important topics is a noble pursuit. So you take something that in one context is very crass and you put it in another. People will say, ‘That’s very crass,’ but in the service of doing something good for humanity, I think it’s pretty great.” This happens often when you ask questions about Upworthy: It turns out that whatever you were curious about is actually wonderful, because it’s ultimately in the service of the good of humankind. Would you need to be a black-hearted monster to feel that there must be a catch? Or that one will arrive next month, when Upworthy is slated to announce its long-awaited monetization strategy? (Over the past year, the site has run content sponsored by Skype and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on an experimental basis.)

Watching Team Upworthy Work Is Enough to Make You a Cynic. Or Lose Your Cynicism. Or Both. Or Neither.