Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” in his 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene. Meme is short for the Greek word “mimeme,” which means “imitated thing”. A meme is a concept, behavior or bit of information that spreads from person to person in a specific culture or environment and the commonly known internet memes are a subset, or as Dawkins states “a hijacking” of this original idea. Memes act as units for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other phenomena. A field of study called memetics arose in the 1990s to explore the concepts and transmission of memes in terms of how they evolve and grow. Supporters of the biological concept of memes regard them as “cultural genes” in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. “Memeticist” was coined as a play on the term “geneticist” originally in The Selfish Gene.
Contrary to popular belief, memes have been around much longer than the internet and people have been obsessing over animals dressed in clothes since the beginning of the 1900s. One of the earliest examples of memes dates back to an old-school version of LOLcats, when an American photographer in the 1870s, named Harry Whittier Frees took photos of his pet cats, added text and turned them into greeting cards. The Huffington Post published this article about Frees who apparently photographed rabbits and puppies as well, but said cats had the most appeal (and don’t we know that to be true today).
Types of Internet Memes
Memes can be:
- rage comics
- image macros (picture with line of text above and a corresponding punchline below)
Nigel Gif Meme
The Dancing Hamster became one of the internets first popular memes in the late 1990s and was spread through chain emails and blogs. The site of dancing hamsters was a site with simply endless rows of hamsters dancing to “Whistle Stop” by Roger Miller. The creator of this meme Deidre LaCarte made the page as a homage to her pet hamster, Hampton and it had 17 million views in 3 months. By todays standards this may not seem like too many but we have to take into consideration there were much less people on the internet in those days. Furthering the life of this meme, The Cuban Boys sampled the Hampster Dance song for their hit “Cognoscenti vz. Intelligentisa” and this song hit #32 on Canadian radio charts and #4 on charts in the UK.
Christopher Poole who founded the imageboard website 4chan is often regared at the creator of the types of memes we are all familiar with today. The site 4 chan is now almost 210 years old and “The Next Web” interviewed Poole on his thoughts about its 25 million monthly viewers.
How to create your own meme
The site http://memegenerator.net/ allows you to create your own versions of already popularized memes such as:
Philosoraptor or Bad Luck Brian
But if you want to create your own try to remember these tips that will help popularize your idea or else you will end up laughing all by yourself. And that’s just embarrassing.
- For the masses: Be sure that your idea can appeal to a large group of people, by broadening the target audience you can ensure it will be more widely shared.
- Use Humor: Comedy that people can easily relate to will allow for a positive response, the funnier the meme, the more it will be shared.
- Share it on Popular sites: Post your meme to popular sites such as Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Facebook.
Damon Brown, entrepreneur and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Memes says the tops three things to remember are:
- Pay attention to pop culture: Memes are little pockets of pop culture that show what we are thinking at that moment. How can you create a meme or be part of a meme if you don’t know what the modern thinking is?
- Work quickly: When you find something in the news or in pop culture that is appropriate for your business, timing is everything.
- Be prepared: It’s not about seeing what’s trending right now and trying to create something around it. Rather, you should be proactive and look for elements of your product or business that are meme-worthy.
Public relations, advertising, and marketing professionals have embraced Internet memes as a form of viral marketing to create interest and popularity for their product or service. The practice of using memes to market products or services is known as memetic marketing. The use of internet memes is cost-effective, and because they can quickly turn viral, they are easily used as a way to create an image of awareness or trendiness.
Marketers can use Internet memes to create interest in ideas that would otherwise not generate as much publicity among their targeted audience for example the Melbourne Metro Trains created the meme Dumb Ways to Die as an attempt to gain awareness surrounding the negative topic of fatalities linked with their metro trains. FreeCreditReport.com created a catchy singing ad campaign which they used to advertise their service that otherwise is a boring topic that people may not be interested in.
I can Has a Cheezburger? is a weblog featuring the meme LOLcats, which was created by Eric Nakagawa in 2007. In just one year, the page had received over half a billion page visits and is now worth $2 million.
Even concepts that are deemed publically unpopular can quickly become memes and gain a type of ironic publicity. The 2011 single “Friday” by Rebecca Black was popularly hated by the public but it was a commercial success that earned $1.4 million and now has over 2 million downloads on iTunes.