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Pop quiz, hotshot!

What’s one of the most popular types of interactive content marketing out there?

If you answered, “Quiz websites!” then you win the Kewpie doll! What’s a Kewpie doll? Don’t worry about it. Instead, enjoy a brief history of the rise and fall (and rise again!) of the Internet quiz, a fairly ingenuous—and effective!—way to engage with a target audience. People love to fill out quizzes, and they love to share them with all their friends even more.  

But quizzes weren’t always that popular on the Internet. They weren’t on the Internet at all, at first. In the beginning, the word “quiz” referred to an odd person. Eventually, that became “quizzical”, as in odd or eccentric. As in, “Sherlock Holmes is a quizzical bloke.” Then, the quiz became known as a sort of mind game, or test. Everyone is familiar with the pub quiz, or trivia night, where friends gather at a bar to answer a series of questions related to sports, pop culture, geography, or other topics. Or, the pop quiz in school, which surprises students and brushes them up on the lessons they’ve learned. Usually there’s a right or wrong answer, a spirit of competition, and a winner and loser in the end.

Because Benedict Cumberbatch was (and will always be) the best Sherlock Holmes.

The personality quiz, which became commonplace in print magazines like Cosmopolitan (NSFW), usually contains multiple-choice questions without a correct answer. Instead of a black-and-white right or wrong answer, the questions typically result in a flattering (or insulting, or just plain funny, depending on the quiz) revelation for the reader that says something about their personality type. Quizzes with titles like What Kind of Lover Are You? or What Ice Cream Flavor Are You? have corresponding answers relating to the theme. Oh, you’re vanilla! Well, that’s…too bad. Or not! Maybe you like vanilla and you’re just fine with that result. Better share that issue with your friends and see what kind of outcomes they get!

Today, the basic magazine quiz template has become the predominant form of the online quiz. In the early days of the modern Internet, quizzes and polls were commonplace as they sat right next to or underneath the guestbook or forum link on your everyday Geocities page. In the early 2000s, the beginning stages of social media included quizzes to engage followers and friends. Blog platforms like LiveJournal (now owned by Russia!) and Xanga made it easy to include simple copy-and-paste code into the user’s page to create quizzes for fans, friends, or anyone who happened to stumble upon (ahem) your shrine to emo bands. But as these nascent forms of social media withered, died, and resurrected in new shapes and systems, so too would the quiz website, which at the time was usually an unimaginative list of text-based questions. Yawn.

Eventually, LiveJournal gave way to Facebook, and Xanga’s co-creators co-founded Twitter, which has its own quiz-like function in the user-created poll. Around the same time, a new player in the content space arose, and I think we all know which buzzy bee we’re referring to. Taking memes, tweets, lists, and GIFs (largely from Reddit and other uncredited content creators) and plastering them on its own website made Buzzfeed the de facto Internet emperor.

But its real claim to fame before the eventual and surprisingly good journalism? Quizzes. Tons and tons of quizzes—mainly about Disney princesses. And spirit animals. And states—which is one of the site’s most successful stories ever with well over 40 million unique hits. Quizzes became so popular that daytime host/fish impersonator Ellen DeGeneres got in on the act, joking quizzes are “a serious addiction that is sweeping our country.”

Quizzes became such a hit, Buzzfeed gave users their chance to make their own. And if you’re a brand in need of a little exposure, maybe you should consider quiz websites too.

It sounds simple in practice, but a lot can go into a successful Buzzfeed-esque Internet quiz. Nostalgia is a huge factor. Just look at the sheer amount of quizzes about 90s movies and sitcoms. And with nostalgia, comes visual callbacks. The most popular quizzes are chockfull of images, graphics, GIFs, and color-coded text. No one wants to look at a bland black and white list of questions. Everyone wants to see Princess Ariel and Ross from Friends in full color, and they want flavor text that adds personality.

Adapting a quiz so it works on mobile devices is another huge factor. When idling on a bus, train, or in a waiting room, readers can conveniently blow through multiple quizzes in minutes. Or even retake quizzes, and then share them.

So, why should brands invest in quiz-making? Because according to Digiday, 96 percent of users complete sponsored quizzes. And all those collected responses (y’know: data) can help marketers figure out who their users are, and what they’re interested in, so the next quiz website can be even better than the last.   

Whether it’s a trivia or personality test, poll, or some kind of online assessment that will decide your true Disney prince love, it looks like the quiz website is here to stay.

Now, pop quiz hot shot! Which Sandra Bullock Character Are You?

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