Love, Dogs & Virality

By Stefano Blanca Sciacaluga

I remember vividly, like most of you will, when smartphones didn’t exist. Nothing was smart other than a three piece suit. Remember polyphonic ringtones and snake? I remember when people started using smartphones; in Gibraltar they weren’t commonplace until a while after everywhere else. I remember a time, when I was a kid, when ‘America’ was this mythical place at least ten, twenty years ahead of the rest of the world. Of course, I didn’t know Japan, China and Korea were a thing, and Gibraltar was ten, twenty years behind the rest of the world anyway. Then came smartphones. Surprisingly late, if I may add. In 2011 Blackberry Curves were a thing and it wasn’t maybe two years until young people weren’t using Nokia brick phones anymore. Smartphones were (and some still are) expensive pieces of technology, and like everything Gibraltarians weren’t moving at the same pace as elsewhere. I remember a time when mIRC was a thing, then MySpace, then Bebo and finally Facebook. I even remember when Facebook was a thing. Today Facebook isn’t a thing; partly because their CEO (The Zucc) is a weird robot, but also because children don’t have attention spans like we used to.  Facebook’s other ventures Instagram and WhatsApp are where it’s at in 2020, and in the strange bubble that is Gibraltar they do particularly well.

If Gibraltar is famous for one thing it’s for its monkeys and breath-taking views. Just kidding, if we’re famous for one thing it’s for how much we love el cachondeo: cotilleo, nasty rumours and a funny video. Nos reimos de los males de la gente and then scold each other about it. We love a good story of cuernos and a photo of a totalled car. Y una pelea afuera del Roxy? The game winner. Virality was a big thing a couple of years ago. Remember Vine? Six seconds, that’s how long Vines were. Vine lasted only four years but left a lasting impression in how we use and view the internet. There was a time when the internet was about communication, news and learning and by December 2015, when Vine had 200 million active users, the internet was about people like Shawn Mendes becoming full-on famous in six seconds. Vine closed down in 2016, to be succeeded by Instagram’s new video feature (which also destroyed Snapchat later on) and more recently TikTok. Apparently TikTok has arrived on the Rock, creating a new generation of weird kids. But as people my age moved away from Vine and Snapchat and stopped using Facebook as much as we used to we still craved that virality.

The whole dynamic has changed: Gibraltarians under 40 aren’t doing Facebook anymore, it’s now the playground of over 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, but where these three worlds collide is in WhatsApp. Gone are the days where Speak Freely was constantly talked about because now everybody and their mum (certainly my mum) is on WhatsApp hitting that forward button. It’s dangerous, for sure. Gibraltar being as small as it is only means that things spread like wildfire. I remember being completely shocked at how much the “Negro de WhatsApp” phenomenon had spread when I saw a post about it on an Italian meme page. Today being on WhatsApp in Gibraltar means that you still get Negro de WhatsApp memes, and you don’t just get them once, but four or five times, and then later on in the day four or five times more. Every time something newsworthy happens in Gibraltar ahí viene el Negro de WhatsApp in one of those images where the thumbnail looks like La Fuente del Capullo is completely flooded only to open it and…skyrockets in flight, afternoon delight.

I’ve seen it myself. I’ve tested the system. You throw something out at Gibraltar, via a couple of WhatsApp groups and it can literally be a matter of minutes before it’s come back to you, in lower quality (because Gibraltarians don’t know how to share something without screenshotting first). It’s all well and good as long as it’s something positive, or even a funny video, but there’s really something to be said about how quickly the bad stuff spreads around Gibraltarians’ smartphones. 2018 was the year of the term ‘fake news’, mainly thanks to Cheeto man, Donald Trump. Of course Gibraltar is not immune to this and two years later we’re seeing more fake news than ever, which is perfect for the average Llanito, enparrao de la vida. The joke has gone so far that local media outlets give in to virality, and 2020 - being the disaster year it’s already proving to be – with Coronavirus, the Abortion Referendum and Brexit is the perfect time to make the most of a bad situation. And that’s where some (extremely) clever marketing, a couple of dogs and WhatsApp collide.

On Wednesday, at some point in the afternoon my phone goes off. I open the photo and it’s my friend Christian Santos on the Sunborn’s deck, in what looks like a wedding setting, with two dogs and some guests. Five or ten minutes go by and I’ve received the photo a couple more times. Then some more. And to the point where another friend sends me a request to ask Christian for a hook-up lead for their dog. Up to now all positive. That’s until I go on Facebook and start seeing people completely scandalised by the idea of a dog wedding. I give it some thought, I look it up, I analyse the photo. To me it’s clear what’s going on, but what I’m seeing and hearing is people saying “lo que faltaba ya, dogs have more rights than babies”. The outraged 40+ Gibraltarian with questionable morals but a belief they are a bastion of morality was out in full force. One more thing to add to the list of things why Brexit (yes, Brexit) is a good thing. Let me show you how this thing goes:

Crazy young people want to learn from other cultures

Crazy young people want to be modern and be accepting of everybody and everything

Crazy young people want abortions on demand

Crazy young people want to marry their dogs

Crazy young people want to destroy civilization

“I’ve seen it all”, a line that sums up most of the comments I was seeing on social media. Like I said, to me it was clear, but it seemed like how with a lot of things I experience in this micro-bubble town the point of it had gone way clear over the average Gibraltarian’s head. I don’t know who’s reading this far, I doubt that after the above many of the people scandalised by a dog wedding will still be holding on, but if I have to spell it out for you I will.

Gibraltarians have only recently discovered marketing. In the past four or five years local businesses have started getting better at their online presence. Gone (or kind of) are the days where a big local business wouldn’t have an email address or website. Gibraltar is now online, and business owners are finally paying attention to people specialised in the field of marketing, giving them a chance and truly reaping the rewards; after all, a small 30,000 population city is the perfect place for good marketing campaigns. Remember the fitted bedroom from Acmoda? Good marketing works and there is something to be said of “all press is good press”, and that is just what the dog wedding at the Sunborn was about. It wasn’t about crazy young people trying to be different, people wasting money on frivolous things (as if Gibraltarians don’t BURN money on crap) or whatever people on social media wanted to make it seem. It was literally one of the best - if not the best – marketing move I have ever seen on the Rock; and in a city where weddings are the highlight of everybody’s life this was wedding planner Monica Viroomal of Hour Wedding’s genius way of getting people to talk about her business, with the help of a local, extremely talked about, personality. It was pure genius, and what’s even better is that Hour Weddings even donated some money to the Animals in Need Foundation, who already do a stellar job for dogs locally. Not so scandalous anymore, right? There’s definitely something to take away from all of this, I’ll let you decide what that is.

Pic below: The blog author before smartphones took away his ham guitar.