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Why Ryan Gosling's Cereal Video Is More Important Than It Seems

The viral Vine is more than a touching tribute; it's a lesson on how to effectively raise awareness about public health issues.
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Ryan McHenry. (Photo: Twitter)

Ryan McHenry. (Photo: Twitter)

Yesterday, Ryan Gosling posted a video of himself eating cereal:

Gosling’s video, which he created on Vine, serves as a tribute to Ryan McHenry, the 27-year-old creator of the meme “Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal.” McHenry died on Sunday after a long battle with bone cancer.

Gosling also took to Twitter to express his sympathies to McHenry’s family:

To be sure, McHenry was an Internet star in his own right. While his “Gosling” meme (also created on Vine) went viral, McHenry’s other videos (many of which gave viewers a glimpse into his struggles with cancer), as Time’s Kevin McSpadden points out, were also hugely popular.

The popularity of both of these videos presents an interesting case study for public health campaigns.

A 2012 study in the journal BMC Public Health found that public health agencies aren’t utilizing social media effectively to spread awareness among online audiences. “If public health agencies are to use social media effectively,” the researchers wrote, “they must develop a strategic communication plan that incorporates best practices for expanding reach and fostering interactivity and engagement.”

Though the study was published a few years ago, its message still rings true. Log onto the Centers for Disease Control and Protection’s Twitter page, for example, and you’ll see relatively bland messages like these:

With tens—if not hundreds—of viral memes and videos circulating the Web every week, public health groups would be smart to pay close attention to what catches the public’s eye, and to ask why. Yes, there’s a potential loss of the message when you only have six seconds or 140 characters to make a point, but, as Amy Heldman wrote in her 2013 study in Public Health Reviews, “the multi-way, interactive functionality that is inherent to these platforms ... can allow us to increase direct engagement to maintain and increase trust and credibility.”

If the medium is indeed the message, public health groups shouldn’t take the Ryan Gosling video simply as a poignant and powerful Vine. When it comes to outreach in the Internet age, it’s a lesson that creativity is king.