Google’s Abigail Posner: screaming goat videos shed new light on the mundane

Screaming goat

Screaming goat

Google’s Strategic Planning chief Abigail Posner attempted to explain the phenomenon that is the screaming goat meme at the 2013 PSFK conference, held in New York City recently. Over four-billion hours of video is watched each month on YouTube and 72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, so, why are we watching what we’re watching, she asks. And why are we taking pictures of the seemingly everyday mundane things, like what we’re eating for lunch? Why are we captured by these every day images?

Posner believes that, on the contrary, we are attracted to these images and video especially because of their mundanity, and because they show us the world we live in, in a new light. “The familar becomes fascinating,” she says, “and this in turn, re-ignites our love for the world.” The goat video, she says, was created because someone wanted to make their mark on the world, and show us two things we’d seen before, but never together. “The more we play in the creative visual world, the more we see that our lives really aren’t that mundane.”

Posner believes the visual web gives us the freedom to go adventuring and to be a mixer-and-matcher of content. She calls this “synaptic amazingness” and if you like someone’s synaptic amazing-ness, they may like yours too. She calls this a “collective cadenza” of sorts: “We share because we want others to share in with us — we are hard-wired to want to do this.”

So, it’s not the act of seeing the video that is gratifying, but sharing in that act that is more satisfying. Citing research that shows when a mother smiles at her child, it smiles back, Posner says that by offering others happiness, it amplifies our own. She showed her children the video of the goats screaming in the middle of the Taylor Swift song, I Knew You Were Trouble, to enjoy the laughter they experienced. “We get a rush or pleasure when we know others are sharing with us. We are not just sharing it, we are sharing in it. We want to read the comments and see that others have viewed a video so we know we are not alone.”

Posner maintains that the energy exchange reminds us that we are bonded with others. So rather than see the net as just a dumping ground or a sign of an intellectual void in our culture, she says we should see it as a place to view our world in a fascinating light.

She relays some thought starters that can help brands and marketers looking to take advantage of how this “synaptic amazingness” works. “Find the mundane,” she says, “and make it wondrous” (for example, how Blendtech took a blender and used it in exciting ways to demonstrate its power); mix and match across time and space, and help others do the same (for example, the mobile company 3 allowed users to create their own DJ mix, bringing together two seemingly opposite concepts); and create stuff that gets better when shared (for example, Perrier allowed more content to be unlocked when its videos were shared with friends).

But Posner’s bottom line is: “spark happiness and be a source of positive energy, even if you are a screaming goat.”



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