A Marketer's Dream: Content That Goes Viral (a.k.a. Meme)

I'm sure that you've seen an item or two shared in your social channels recently that was meaningful to you or made you laugh out loud.

A friend posted this quotation on her Facebook wall, and it was a classic "duh moment" for me. "This is it! This is what I've been working toward the last few years!" I've internalized it and try to live it, but had never thought to articulate it as a philosophy of living. And because it's meaningful to me, I've shared it with my social networks.

(I always knew Roald Dahl was a genius, but this quotation confirms it.)

By virtue of being a piece of content shared and re-shared over the Internet, this quotation can be considered an Internet meme. Social networks are not only amazingly well suited for sharing these viral Internet memes easily and quickly, but have contributed to the meme explosion.

Note: Meme rhymes with team.

So a little back story here, if you don't know what a meme is:

The "meme" word was first introduced by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in 1976. "Meme" comes from the Greek word "mimema" (meaning "something imitated", American Heritage Dictionary). Dawkins described memes as a being a form of cultural propagation, a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other. Not unlike the way that DNA and life will spread from location to location, a meme idea will also travel from mind to mind. (about.com)

If you're a social soul, you most likely see multiple memes every day flowing through your feeds like a river, gaining speed and strength before they suddenly sputter to a halt once they reach critical mass and lose shock value. A meme can be almost anything: a quotation (such as the Roald Dahl one above) a photo, video or animated GIF, an animal or person — real or fictional, or even just a symbol or a word. You can tell just how viral a meme is by how many versions you see.

Here are a few of the more viral memes that have made the social rounds.

Tardis the grumpy cat is a great example of an animal meme.

Gymnast McKayla Maroney's "not impressed" face was photoshopped onto thousands of photos, and was so well known that even President Obama jumped into the fun.

The multitude of "Gangnam style parodies created and posted on YouTube last year demonstrate just how fast and furiously viral memes can go.

Most marketers can only dream of having their content go viral like so many memes do every day. Unfortunately for them (and me), there's no single "formula" for what makes a meme go viral, but memes do seem to have some of these characteristics in common:
  • They're usually humorous. The humor can be sarcastic, slapstick, dry, witty, rude, juvenile....
  • They are something that resonates with people — they can identify with or relate the meme to their own experience or life.
  • They can be modified with a basic graphics program.
  • Whatever chord they strike in viewers makes the viewers want to share with their social networks.
There have been a few marketing campaigns that have gone viral. Arguably the most viral one is the Old Spice "Smell like a man man" campaign videos, which have had almost 100 million views on YouTube.

Do you have a favorite meme? Why is it your favorite?

Tardis the grumpy cat
McKayla Maroney and President Obama