Talking to young people about politics in a language they understand

How a fake goat GIF reminded people to register to vote

POPSCI: A scientific slant on what’s trending in popular culture

Registering to vote is extremely important and surprisingly simple — but it’s also incredibly easy to forget about. If only there was an easy way of being reminded to do it. For a group of young digital creatives — two of whom work at AKQA — there’s a simple solution. And it starts with a GIF of a goat riding on a man’s back.

You might have seen the link on Facebook — it looks like any other GIF. But when viewers click it in order to get it to play, they’re redirected to a separate site with a simple message — “If you’ve got time to watch a goat GIF, you’ve got two minutes to register to vote. Don’t be a fucking idiot.” There’s a countdown to registration closing and links to the government’s voter registration site, plus a share button. It was shared over 26,000 times.

While a quarter of young Brits claim to be knowledgeable about politics, in 2013, just 12% would ‘definitely vote’ in a general election. But with 70% saying social media — arguably where they spend a large proportion of their time — should be used to drive social change, a fake goat GIF is a stroke of genius in terms of getting them engaged — despite the fact it wasn’t even created by the UK government.

It easily outshone the official efforts from the Electoral Commission, which took the form of the cast of Hollyoaks asking each other if they’ve ‘done it yet’. The spots were variously described on Twitter as ‘cringeworthy’, ‘childish’ and ‘the worst thing I’ve ever seen’. While voter registration among the young might be low, patronising them clearly isn’t the way to go. Goat GIFs are part of a nuanced vocabulary that Gens Y and Z understand — so why not talk to them in it?

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Written by Susie Hogarth, senior analyst at Canvas8