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.