How Cheryl’s birthday captures the Internet's attention.

By Valerie Lua
The Hoffman Agency, Singapore

July 16th has inevitably become a date that the world will remember for a while.

Just last week, a question was leaked from a Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiad test paper. It was about Cheryl, a mysterious girl who was teasing two boys, Albert and Bernard. Both boys wanted to know about her birthday, so she gave them 10 possible dates. She then told Albert the month, and Bernard the day.

Albert and Bernard had a brief conversation that gave the test-taker three clues to decide Cheryl’s birthday.

The internet exploded with answers, confusion and exasperation as the question surfaced on everybody’s timeline. Since then, many have come up with solutions and posted them on the Internet, even regional news broadcasters like BBC and CNN jumped on the wagon.

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The popularity of Cheryl’s birthday question probably rings a bell. It has been compared to that of another viral phenomenon a couple of months back: #TheDress.

Whether the dress was white and gold, or black and blue, nobody could deny the fact that it drove the Internet insane. People just could not get enough; everyone wanted to know what other people saw.

These incidents, unavoidably, lead us to this question: what makes these posts go viral?

When put side by side, the science behind the rapid growth in popularity of #Cherylsbirthday and #TheDress are actually pretty similar. Here are a few things that both these cases have in common:

1. Simplicity

The solution to the Cheryl’s birthday problem might have been complicated, but the question was easy to understand. There were no pretentious words used, and it was straightforward – the goal was to find out when Cheryl’s birthday was.

Likewise, the debate over the color of #TheDress was simply whether it was white and gold or blue and black.
This information was easily digestible.

2. Thought-provoking

It may not have been rocket science, but both of the posts required a certain level of thinking and decision making on the reader’s part.

Both were questions waiting to be answered, and people shared them wanting to know if their friends had arrived at the same conclusion. Depending on their friends’ response, people wanted to understand their thought process behind it.

3. Explained by professionals

Ultimately, people wanted answers. Within a couple of days, scientists were explaining the reason why people see two different colors on the same dress. Likewise, mathematicians deduced Cheryl’s birthday and shared it on the internet.

This caused the trend to continue; people who have shared the questions on their Facebook walls can now share the answers.

Though these may not be the main reasons why #CherylsBirthday and #TheDress got almost-instant popularity, we could still learn a thing or two about effective communications from these viral posts.

Business2community discusses four research studies that holistically can create viral content, namely conjuring an emotional response, memory-induced triggers, visual attractiveness and useful information.

In reality, there may not be a sure-fire way to make content go viral, but in PR, getting a message out there and understood is the gist of the work.

Keeping up with the trends of what makes the social media generation tick is always good.

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