What Marketers Can Learn From the Success of “25 Random Things”

If you're on Facebook, you've heard of "25 Random Things About Me."   The idea is, you write down 25 things about yourself people may or may not know, then you tag other friends so they can see what you wrote, and write their own list to share with you and their other friends.

I have to admit, at first, I was skeptical – I resisted joining in.  But after reading lists from several of my friends, I got sucked in with entries like:

My first car was a Pinto station wagon. Brown. I called it “The turd”. It blew up.

I left home right before my 16th birthday. Long story. It’s enough to say I made peace with my parents long before I lost them both.

I almost failed 8th grade because I refused to do a single piece of homework. (This from one of the smartest people I know)

My husband is 31 years older than I.

Sometimes when I laugh really hard and really long, I fart.

24. I've written ads that have run in nine countries and had an article translated into Spanish in a tenth. That's crazy to me.

25. The irony of #24 on the one hand and having a son with autism on the other hand smacks me like a rusty shovel every hour of every day.

You can't believe the emotions and memories people have tapped into.  But if you're still thinking this is a bunch of BS – hang on.

Here's why "25 Random Things About Me" works, and how marketers can apply these techniques to their own viral/social media efforts.

  1. Built to go viral– Thanks to the Facebook technology and specific instructions at the top of every "25 Random Things" list, you "tag" 25 friends to send the list to.  Facebook's technology makes it super easy to simply choose the friends you want to tag and click a button – instant viral-ability.  
  2. Personalization – Every list is different and designed to be the ultimate way for you to express who you really are.  (You're not just passing along something – you're adding your own personal stamp.)  Some of the lists get a little cheesy, but, for the most part, the lists are incredibly authentic.   Personalized authenticity is the name of the game right now.

  • 3. Connecting – "25 things" is all about creating connections between the people who share their lists.  Connecting is one of the top things people want to do right now. It's a way to build relationships.  

    4.  25 items makes you actually think.   If you know anything about brainstorming – experts often say the best ideas come out after all the obvious ones have been thrown out first.   By having a list of 25 things, (rather than, say, 5 things) you're forcing people to really think to come up with a full list. A lot of my best ideas came out in number 18-25 on my list, where I really had to think and dig deep to come up with something to add.

    5. Tapping into emotional memories.   This is, in my opinion, the most powerful reason for the success of this list- especially with women.  What are emotional memories?  It's the specific way the brain encodes certain memories.

    "Emotional events often attain a privileged status in memory. Cognitive neuroscientists have begun to elucidate the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying emotional retention advantages in the human brain. The amygdala is a brain structure that directly mediates aspects of emotional learning and facilitates memory operations in other regions, including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Emotion–memory interactions occur at various stages of information processing, from the initial encoding and consolidation of memory traces to their long-term retrieval. Recent advances are revealing new insights into the reactivation of latent emotional associations and the recollection of personal episodes from the remote past."

    In plain English – Emotional memories seem to be stronger and last longer than other memories. 

    Here's why marketers should be interested in this – it's the "emotional association" part.  Brands are always trying to find ways to connect with customers' deeper emotions.   The "25 Random Things About Me" list are chock full of recollections of personal episodes from the past – AKA deep powerful emotions.

    If I were a brand manager right now, I'd be looking seriously at this 25 Random Things About Me phenomenon and figuring out if there's a way to use something similar to tie in and promote my product. 

  • For example:  a flower company ties in a Mother's Day Bouquet Coupon with a "10 things you didn't know about my mom" list that people could share with each other – friends, family, and their moms.  

    Here's why this is especially powerful with women:

    It also seems that there are differences in the way men and women process emotional memories. Women are better at remembering emotional memories. They also seem to be more likely to forget information presented immediately before emotionally charged information. This suggests that women are more affected by emotional content – a suggestion compatible with the finding that women and men tend to encode emotional experiences in different parts of the brain. In women, it seems that evaluation of emotional experience and encoding of the memory is much more tightly integrated.

    Folks, this is incredibly powerful stuff.  It's one of the things I love most about social media – you can see what works and use those techniques in your marketing efforts. (I'll be writing a lot more about this in the future).

    So – I figure the best way to end is with my own 25 Random Things About Me list.

    1. I have a twin sister. Reactions to this news range from, “How cool!” to “Please God tell me you’re kidding.”
    2. I have already picked the title to my autobiography – “Oops.”
    3. I had meningitis when I was 4 and had so much brain damage the doctors told my family I would be retarded and would probably end up in home. They were wrong about ending up in a home.
    4. I’m a book whore – usually reading 7-8 at the same time.
    5. I used to DJ in clubs. Would still be doing it today if it weren’t for the smoke.
    6. I like to do things that scare me. (kickboxing, mountain climbing, speaking to children)
    7. I believe that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.
    8. My mother is the bravest person I know. She looked my dad in the eye and told him he was dying. It was the most courageous thing I have ever seen.
    9. I have a huge problem with organized religion, but I go to church because I can’t stay away.
    10. I love to nap with my lab. We spoon.
    11. My Boston Terrier snores like a freight train. It’s hell on dating.
    12. For my 40th birthday, I asked my parents for dental floss. (I travel a lot and am always running out) My sister pronounced there was no way we could be related.
    13. I was a music major in college
    14. Howard Cosell once announced that my father was the last honest man in advertising.
    15. One of my guilty pleasures is HBO’s “Entourage”
    16. I’m happiest when I’m on the beach
    17. I would just about cut off a limb to have dinner with Christiana Amanpour – must be one of the most fascinating people alive.
    18. It is one of my life’s great disappointments that I cannot sing.
    19. I’ve lost almost all of the hearing in my right ear. I read lips.
    20. I love the soundtrack to High School Musical.
    21. If you’ve lost all respect for me now, I understand
    22. I love to make up words. Egotestical is one of my new favorites.
    23. I laugh at inappropriate times.
    24. I am physically incapable of choosing a flattering nail color. Friends who see me post pedicure usually comment on my nail color choice as “unfortunate.”
    25. I’ve learned that at weddings, you find out who your acquaintances are. At funerals, you find out who your friends are.

    Do you have any ideas on how to use the successful techniques of 25 Random Things About Me in your marketing?


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    6 Responses to What Marketers Can Learn From the Success of “25 Random Things”

    1. AdWomen says:

      I think it´s fantastic to find out how social media is teaching marketers to change their strategies.
      World is changing!

    2. Holly:
      I think one of the reasons the 25 things really resonates with women is that we like to jump right into it.
      When I meet my girlfriends for coffee, there is little of the small talk and a lot of the “real” talk. You know, the juicy stuff that bothers you, that makes you thrilled, that inspires.
      I think when marketing to women, the branding has to hit a chord… otherwise it is just noise.
      Thanks for making me think about the differences between marketing by gender.

    3. You are a twin too! And #18 – me too!!!
      This is a fantastic post – brilliant.

    4. PS – makes me feel silly for resisting so long to jump in and do the 25 things too. Now I simply MUST do it. 🙂

    5. Jeff Baas says:

      I had never thought of “25 Things” in terms of applying it to marketing before. Great thought! It’s a great way for businesses to provide customers with a chance to express their emotions, as with the example of the florist that you gave.
      And I think that companies can learn a lot from “25 Things” about the value of transparency. No, I don’t think every company should post their own “25 Things You Don’t Know About Our Company” on their home page, but I think a lot of applications can be drawn from “25 Things” when it comes to a company’s willingness to be transparent.

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