When the clock struck a minute after midnight on January 18th, the online community experienced a 24-hour ‘Wiki-blackout’ from the world’s largest free, web encyclopedia. Many other power brands joined in the high-profile protest, forming a marketing campaign that came across as well-executed and successful. Although most likely unintentional, this unified effort protesting the highly controversial SOPA and PIPA bill not only increased awareness of the social issue, but also of the protesters’ brands.
This bold operational move by Wikipedia – in conjunction with other behemoths of the web, such as Google blackening its logo and WordPress censoring its most popular blogs – undeniably had a significant impact. Besides the fact that 18 senators withdrew their support for the bills, Wikipedia (in particular) witnessed an outburst of attention across the platforms. By 6 a.m. next day, the media generated over 4,600 articles on the movement and Wikipedia saw a nearly 30% increase in its site traffic. The pre-announced shutdown actually led to more people flocking to the site than normal, just so they could experience the ‘blackout.’
In addition to the remarkable PR buzz created, this phenomenon was an unusual tactic to test the power of the brand. The complete blockage of access to all Wiki-content reminded its consumers of the significance of Wikipedia within their lives – and the impact the bill would have if passed.
Most importantly, Wikipedia was able to communicate its message with maximum impact by clearly re-telling the story of the brand. By utilizing the contrasting image of darkness and light, Wikipedians effectively narrated their analogy of ‘intellectual darkness’ without access to free knowledge online.
As soon as the world of Wikipedia saw daylight, the web site posted a ‘thank you’ banner addressing the 162 million people who had witnessed the ‘blackout’ – as claimed by its organizers. The sign of gratification was also followed by a message:
“…Our mission is to empower and engage people to document the sum of all human knowledge, and to make it available to all humanity, in perpetuity. We care passionately about the right of authors, because we are authors…The Internet has enable creativity, knowledge, and innovation to shine, and as Wikipedia went dark, you’ve directed your energy to protecting it. We’re turning the lights back on. Help us keep them shining brightly.”
The (PR) Choice: Do you think Wikipedia’s story will convince most to keep the ‘light’ shining?