It’s been almost three years since we at the Brand Content team have regularly produced horror content. The first horror content was posted back in September 2019, so the initial discussion must be done around July or early August. By adding horror to our existing content at that time, comedy and romance, we had three working formulas of the content best practice.
The very first discussion was pretty much just us sharing personal horror stories. I still remember when our former creative shared an urban legend (sort of) of the infamous headless ghost at the post production house basement in Kemang, South Jakarta, area. In the middle of the story, the lights suddenly went out and we all spontaneously screamed. It turned out the light’s switch was accidentally pressed while he’s standing leaning on it. Right there and then, we knew that with the right storytelling, horror content would be big.
We were right. Cerita Misteri Shopee quickly gained popularity and became one of our content pillars on Shopee ID Youtube channel up to date. In total we have produced 83 videos, in which 35 of them are collaborations with top tier horror Youtuber such as Risa Saraswati, Om Hao and Kisah Tanah Jawa team, Frislly Herlind, Filo Sebastian, and Ewing HD, while the rest of them are coming from Sobat Shopee real horror experiences.
You might wonder, what does an e-commerce company have to do with horror content in the first place? Well, sit tight. Google recently published a Youtube Culture & Trends Report 2022. It has so many interesting data and insights about people’s behaviour in producing and consuming content around the globe. They found the forces that drove pop culture’s evolution took three distinct forms: community creativity, multi-format creativity, and responsive creativity. The last form, responsive creativity, has a close relation—if not every notion regarding—to the horror content pillar I was telling since the beginning.
In the report, Google translates the responsive creativity to “creation and consumption trends that derive from the ways people adapt video platforms to suit their psychological and emotional needs”. During the pandemic, there has been a significant number, a whopping 90% of viewers, specifically Gen Z, who watched a video that helped them feel like they were in a different place. While 83% of them have watched soothing content on YouTube to help calm and relax themselves. Most of them agree that they find comfort in creators who have familiarity with them. A sort of parasocial interaction (a kind of psychological relationship experienced by an audience in their mediated encounters with performers in the mass media, particularly on television and on online platforms) forms and exists between them and the creators. Michelle Choi is one of the ‘comfort creators’ who has a regular content series called Living Alone Diaries.
In a similar vein, many people also find comfort in horror content. 53% of Gen Z agree that online horror content appeals to them. It may seem contradictory, but there’s actually a scientific explanation behind this antithetical phenomenon.
When watching scary movies, we can experience psychological responses similar to exposure therapy, a technique used to treat anxiety disorders where we force ourselves to face fear in order to overcome it. A sort of a cathartic release for some.
In 2020, National Geographic published an article titled how horror movies can help people overcome real-world trauma. According to Mathias Clasen, Director of the Recreational Fear Lab and an Associate Professor in Literature and Media at Aarhus University in Denmark, the controlled fear experiences such as watching horror movies “may have positive effects in terms of fine-tuning coping strategies.” We are genuinely frightened, maybe even screamed while watching, but we’re also aware that we’ve done it from the safety of our bed or living room. The article further explains that a study of more than 300 people shows that horror fans are showing a much better psychological condition than non-fans during the distressing time of pandemic.
Taking everything into consideration, the Shopee Brand Team decided to tap into the horror content as well for campaign promotion. It was a parody of a horror vlog, where a man is doing a livestream in the middle of the night in a supposedly abandoned complex with a dirty pool and lush trees. To make it more convincing, the video was posted on one of the biggest anonymous Instagram accounts in Indonesia. The strategy worked. People got hooked, intrigued, and stayed until the very end of the video when the Shopee brand message appeared.
So what’s next?
Like any other trends, as a genre, horror has evolved too. Still from the Youtube Culture & Trends Report 2022, Google defines the genre based on the generation. They reported that millennial horror tends to be more about the adrenaline rush of the jump scare. Remember Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, or The Ring? While the younger generation or Gen Z prefer a more atmospheric horror. That explains the found-footage style (think of The Blair Witch Project) or ‘analog horror’ trend has risen.
A little throwback to the early pandemic, there was a trend circulated among the online community called ‘liminal space’, which later formed a new “youth-driven internet folklore, The Backrooms”, wrote Samantha Culp, a journalist, writer, and creative strategist in her piece titled Liminal Dust-up.
‘The Backrooms’ was originally a meme, posted in 4Chan on May 12, 2019, on a thread calling for “disquieting images” that “just feel off”. It’s the disturbing feeling of the unknown that has drawn many people into it. It now has spawned stories, comics, fan art, video games, and increasingly high-production value viral videos on YouTube.
Working in digital content production means we need to keep improving and adapting. In order to have a long lasting, meaningful, and great bonding with the viewers (with Gen Z as the majority), we have to understand their content consumption behaviour. What interests them and what’s relevant to them. And that specific part about the ‘Millennial vs Gen Z horror’ becomes valuable insight for us as we’re cooking something fresh for the viewers to enjoy!
So did our decision to add horror as one of the content pillars for Shopee ID Youtube work or did we just get lucky? I believe both answers are right. It’s a proven formula that ‘horror, comedy, and romance’ topics are among the best-selling topics in history. However, I’ve to admit that the timing is in our favour. Horror content consumption seems to have increased, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, and is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. In the meantime, we’re not so surprised to see our competitors (yes, plural) using the same strategy by tapping into horror content on their Youtube channel.