Why Where You Say It Is Just as Important as What You Say

Due to current circumstances, Pride 2020 required a new comms outlook. In the absence of a physical march; campaigners, brands and local businesses showed their support throughout the month via online campaigns and collaborations. In a time of isolation, it inspired creativity and fresh discussion to show that the UK welcomes every part of the LGBTQ+ community - none more so than SpongeBob SquarePants himself!

On the 14th June Nickelodeon made an announcement regarding SpongeBob’s sexuality and delivered it in an Instagram post and a tweet, stoking fresh discussion about the widely adored character. The posts were followed by a large amount of news coverage, comments, likes and shares. The SpongeBob audience has a wide demographic and a campaign like this presumably has broad objectives, however, we wanted to look into its current linear audience only.

Does announcing SpongeBob’s sexuality, outside of the audience’s playground, increase the consumption of that character’s content? 

We looked at…

Google Trends to assess the overall engagement of the announcement

We checked out the Instagram post and its weekly and YOY comparisons

Then we went straight to the core linear audience (6-13 years) and asked about their engagement with the announcement

Looking at Google Trends, we’re able to understand whether this announcement triggered search intent i.e. whether people were actively engaged. The news was first announced on 14th June 2020, driving a +72.4% increase in Google and +42.1% increase in YouTube search trends when compared to the previous day (13th June). This is significant, considering the same period in 2019 saw a +5.8% increase in Google and +16.7% increase in YouTube search trends. Interestingly, this spike in YouTube search trends drove a +17.2% increase in weekly YouTube views during this year’s period. Usually the average weekly increase around this period is ~3%.

As part of the strategy, an Instagram post was also released to drive engagement and increase shareability of the news, but what impact did this have?

Image: nickelodeon | Instagram

Posts on this channel typically saw 31k likes and 685 comments on average. This particular post saw 433k likes and 42k comments. In comparison, Nickelodeon’s post last year on SpongeBob’s birthday on 18 June 2019 had 87k likes and 1.3k comments. Comparatively on Cartoon Network’s Instagram page, its 2020 Pride month post saw 146k likes and 3k comments.

So Viacom delivered an awareness campaign that triggered increased consumption of the character’s social content, but to deliver a strategy that goes beyond a single period of success we need to consider the targeting of the content.

SpongeBob is still a popular series amongst its current linear audience, with 21% of the 1,554 kids aged 6-13 years old we surveyed saying they watch it every week, with a further 20% saying they watched it monthly. According to Parrot Analytics, SpongeBob climbed the TV Demand Chart the week of 24 June due to the announcement of the new film The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, which was subsequently delayed to August 2021, and its announcement of SpongeBob’s sexuality in support of Pride month.

We then went on to query whether the current linear audience had heard of the news/announcement surrounding SpongeBob, 40% saying they had heard the news.

Kids that were higher consumers of SpongeBob were more likely to be exposed to the campaign.

We then asked the kids since SpongeBob’s announcement was in the news this summer, have they consumed “More, less, or the same amount” of the character’s content.  Of those that said they watched SpongeBob and were exposed to the campaign, following the announcement 36% said they consumed more of the character’s content. Furthermore, when we asked kids where they learnt about the news, of those who were exposed to the news, 45% said they had seen it on YouTube.

So, what have we learnt here? Well, our data shows us that there was a spike in SpongeBob content consumption on linear TV, and exposure to the announcement on the platforms where the announcement was made. After speaking with kids 6-13 years (the current linear audience), we learnt that those who were exposed to the announcement subsequently engaged with the character’s content more. YouTube was the most popular source of the announcement for the current linear audience.

We need to understand where the audience is.

Our research shows that the announcement reached its wider audience successfully and increased content viewing in its core linear audience (kids aged 6-13 years).

YouTube was the most effective social platform amongst current viewers. And would be an effective platform for future placement of content. Young consumers have become informational hunters and gatherers, taking pleasure in tracking down character backgrounds and plot points, Jenkins (2006). Knowing that the core linear audience is more YouTube focused, suggests that the announcement could be supported with long-form, educational and visually easy to consume content.

The Legend of Korra, which also featured on the announcement, has been an influential kids show since the beginning by breaking racial, sexual, and political ground. Given that SpongeBob’s announcement did not detract from viewing behaviour, there is an opportunity for continuing content that educates and empowers the target audience, to build on the impact that this one campaign has had.


Jenkins, H. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press

Parrot Analytics: https://www.mediaweek.com.au/tv-demand-the-100-and-paw-patrol-top-the-chart-spongebob/

The Legend of Korra: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/12/korra-series-finale-recap-gay-asami


Thierry Ngutegure is the Data & Insights Manager at Rise at Seven, overlooking everything data and research-orientated. Aligning with operational efficiencies, reporting strategies for SEO/PR, data-led content creation, data journalism and consumer research.

Rebecca Stringer is the Research Director at KidsKnowBest, leading research in the key behaviours that impact kids’ development and helping brands develop global strategies to engage family audiences.