Internet Meming — It’s Chilly Out There

10 06 2009

Heads in Freezers and In The Internet

If you do a search on the word “memes” over in the search box over to the right, you’ll see that I’ve spent more than a few postings talking about how memes spread on the web, including this absolutely hilarious South Park episode which had all of the Net Celebs in a fight to the death with each other. Now you can watch one evolve before your eyes with the tag 241543903.

This is a consciously created attempt to create a viral web moment, something which has been eluding marketeers for several years. People are asked to take a picture of themselves with their head in their freezer and tag it with the number 241543903 when they post it to the web.  There are over 300 of these pictures on flickr alone. There is also a web page devoted to the phenomenon of these pictures, which have moved onto YouTube as well.

Now, how cool is that?

Except, it may not be cool at all.  The web site owners, and starters of this meme, are so conscious of the viral nature of what they hoping to achieve that they’ve even been taking polls on when readers think the phenomenon will hit the mainstream media and which major network will break it first (Fox beats CNN more than 2 to 1 and no one mentions print media at all).

The point for me is this. For years, mems like “the Star Wars kid” and the “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” sprung up on their own and attempts by the people like the Numa Numa Guy or the “Leave Brittney Alone” weirdo to duplicate their success have been death-defyingly unsuccessful. No one has been able to package a formula for success (though you might argue that the “You Suck At Photoshop” guys came close) though everyone’s been trying. Even the second iteration of “Where In The Hell Is Matt?” failed to catch the Web Consciousness in the same way.

Now, the company behind 241543903, Toscana Enterprises Corporation (a “traditional business consulting outfit” which does “strategy and branding consulting”) has decided to try out this approach — which involves coming up with a silly idea and seeding it in a lot of places. Then they stoke the fires by providing polls (read “even more user-generated content”), as well as a central location to make things easier. It remains to be seen if this is any more replicatable than the other engineered attempts.

The key to viral mems is that they are unexpected. Part of the joy is discovering something, deep in the recesses of the web, and spreading it around to your friends – in much the same way that water cooler talk worked pre-Internet. Marketing companies tried mightily to influenced what people talked about on their coffee breaks then, and it had varying levels of success. The fantastic thing about public perception of marketing is that it resents being manipuated. Of course, we (in the media) are all about manipulating the audience — it’s how we get them to laugh or cry at our projects. But manipulation only works if the audience doesn’t feel the overt hand doing it.

Now here’s a poll for you — how many of you have even heard of 241543903?  How many of you were interested in it?  And how many of you changed your level of interest after I told you who was behind it?

And that’s what I’m talking about, when I talk about viral.


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5 responses to “Internet Meming — It’s Chilly Out There”

10 06 2009
Judith Allen (20:27:50) :

I hadn’t heard of it, I clicked the link to the flickr page because I was curious about the extent that people were putting their heads into a freezer (was there any drawer removal involved?), then pretty much lost interest instantly.

It seems random for the sake of being random, rather than being based on an idea that really speaks to those who hear of it. That it’s corporate in origin reinforces that in my mind.

10 06 2009
Norman (21:56:54) :

Exactly. My point exactly. This is more manufactured, and my guess is that your reaction is one of the reasons that it won’t really go viral (even though bozos like me are spreading the word).

10 06 2009
Judith Allen (23:39:09) :

I doubt he’ll be a big name in the USA, but I’ve always enjoyed Dave Gorman‘s ‘adventures’.

His first book/ stage show was called “Are You Dave Gorman“, and was set up around a bet with his friend Danny Wallace (played the straight man in this, then set up some ‘whacky’ adventures of his own to extend the fame) that he could find 54 other people called Dave Gorman, and shake their hand. He did it for himself, not the stage show that followed – although Gorman was already a stand-up comedian and some retelling was inevitable – but a real degree of success was attained.

Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure” followed. The first half of the stage show/ book was him trying to say to people that he had no interest in going off around the world – and they didn’t believe him because he was the kind of crazy person who DID that stuff. And then the obsession took hold, because that’s the sort of person he is: he couldn’t stop until he’d found a chain of 6 (one person finding the next googlewhack) and met them all.

There were other various thiings which happened in the meantime, but these are the two key events which people usually associate with Dave Gorman. However, people in general will still send him emails detailing the googlewhacks that they’ve found, or links to another Dave Gorman. But Dave’s not interested. His interest was in achieving his goals, and really the public interest lies in the telling of the story. Not the actual events themselves. Written down, they sound quite weird and either overly-simplistic or impossible, and the question of “why” is one which frequently comes up when mentioning any of them.

But it does seem that people can confuse the fact that there’s a good story which relates to something much more fundamental (thereby enabling them to enjoy it)…. with the actual facts and processes. That’s why I can’t see this going viral. There seems to be a deep misunderstanding somewhere along the line of why things are ‘fun’. And a worry that companies actually are then going to try to tap into the deeper impulses just to get us to buy a microwave, thereby depriving us of the mindless joys that life can bring via the internet as we become desensitised.

Although I’m not lying awake at night thinking about it just yet.

13 06 2009
Jacob Karesh (09:29:20) :

Ya, can’t say that I had heard of it before, but congratulations for contributing to it’s spread. I must say, reading about it my reaction is basically “….k” I mean, I have never exactly been on top of internet memes (usually they are being spread to me, not from me to others) and there are definitely some idiotic ones out there, but most of them have at least some manner of a point to them. Even if that point is idiotic and nonsensical.

13 06 2009
Jacob Karesh (09:30:24) :

Ack, I mean “its”

The grammar Nazi in me is displeased with my slip up.

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