The Global Gossip Game is an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association. It follows the old game of 'Telephone' or 'Chinese Whispers' in which one person whispers a secret to someone else who passes it on to someone else and so forth. The fun in the game is hearing how the message ends up after its initial telling.
Similarly, in 2014, "the secret" started in Australia with this quote from the 1926 book Educational Psychology by theorist Lev Vygotsky:
"Games are...an intrinsic and natural feature of human nature."
It didn't take long for this phrase to lose its bearings.
"The secret's" path involved 17 countries, 11 languages - Cantonese, Croatian, Danish, English, French, German, Mandarin, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish - and just four short of 1,000 participants.
In total, it went through 375 variations - roughly one every 2.5 people - during the 26.5 hours of play. The final iteration - from Clinton, Wisconsin in the USA - being, the bizarre:
Gossip is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as:
"Idle talk or rumour shared with others, especially about the personal or private affairs of those others."
It has been identified by Professor Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford University, as aiding social bonding in large groups - something brands are clearly keen to replicate with regards to their messaging.
With the advent of the internet, gossip is now widespread on an instant basis, from one place in the world to another what used to take a long time to filter through is now instant. Professor Dunbar says:
"Gossip is what makes people human. It allows us to pass on vital information about who to trust, and helps us bond with family, friends & brands. We should accept it as a vital part of human life, which might actually help us to live longer!"
"The new linguistic skills that modern humans acquired about seventy millennia ago enabled them to gossip for hours on end. Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that small bands could expand into larger bands. Even today the vast majority of human communication, whether in the form of emails, phone calls or newspaper columns is gossip."
This Gossip Game is, effectively, what leading advertisers play every day and holds many important lessons for getting storytelling right. The better their 'message', or content, the more of the right people will like it and share it.
In today's digital world, gossip presents as many opportunities as it does challenges. Those of us working in media and marketing, for example, are especially familiar with such 'games' as we experience it daily in our battle to get brands' messages in front of customers, at the right time and in the right place.
Gossip is, effectively, a highly viral form of sharing and is a critical human behaviour for brands to understand if they want to maximise their content creation and messaging activity. If they can understand what sort of content will fuel their message in whatever context (video, print, native, mobile, TV etc) then they have a far greater chance of a campaign being a success and being shared exponentially.
Therefore, the better that brands can understand the rules and patterns around such human behaviour, the more likely they are to succeed.