One of the underlying themes in Neil Stephenson’s book Snow Crash is that of meme. Meme is a concept coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 that discusses the ability to manipulate and transmit message and meaning from host to host through the mind. According to Wikipedia…

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.

Advocates of the meme idea say that memes may evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to that of biological evolution. Memes do this through the processes of variation, mutation, competition and inheritance, each of which influence a meme’s reproductive success.

Memes spread through the behaviors that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread and (for better or for worse) mutate. Memes that replicate most effectively enjoy more success. Some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their hosts

Mind control? The power of suggestion? Viral advertising? What determines what takes hold and spreads from person to person? Whatever happens, something catches fire and it spreads infecting email boxes, social networking sites, smart phones and even telephone polls. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I long for the day that one of my advertising strategies gets those types of legs. Then you’ve made it. If the honey badger guy can do it…so can I! Having an ad go viral is like winning the creative lottery.

Advertising Age explored the Top Ten Viral Ads of all time. Topping the list is Blendtec with its “Will it Blend” campaign.

Followed by Evian’s “Live Young”

and a smattering of other characters including the Old Spice guy (look, I’m on a horse)…to Dove’s Campaign for Natural Beauty.

We learn in advertising that as an agency or a marketing executive you don’t get to choose what goes viral. Nothing points out a rookie advertiser more so than an exclamation at a board meeting that “we are going to create this campaign and it’s going to go viral.”

    We don’t get to decide that!

The public does. Burger King hit gold with its interactive webpage selling their chicken sandwiches and Office Max followed with their Elf Yourself campaign.

Is this all the power of meme? Exploring meme through the lens of viral advertising or hits on youtube is one thing, likes on facebook another….there is still more that would argue that meme is alive and well in politics, education and that culture itself is not what we think it is, but rather the accepted suggestion of others. Is this just a bad example of follow the leader? Are we so passive that we simply give in to the power of suggestion. (Think about a yawn…do it, think about how it feels to yawn… better yet, look at this….). Many of you will at a minimum have the urgency to yawn. Still others will have a full blown yawn. There’s something to be said for the power of suggestion. It exists and it is fascinating.

Viruses of the mind are not a future worry: they are here with us now and are evolving to become better and better at their job of infecting us. The recent explosion of mass media and the information superhighway has made the earth a prime breeding ground for viruses of the mind.

Learmonth, M. (2011). “Digital Marketing: The Top 10 Viral Ads of All Time”. Accessed October 19, 2011.

“Meme”. Wikipedia. Accessed October 19, 2011.