Know Your Meme

18-Aug-10 8:49 AM by
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At last month's KansasFest, an annual convention for Apple II geeks, I gave a presentation that was followed in the schedule by a 45-minute gap. It was too little time for a technical session, which usually requires 15 minutes beforehand to set up and another 15 afterward to break down, but it was also too long to ask attendees to wait. So I volunteered to fill the time with an off-topic fluff session: Know Your Meme.

Thanks to the Internet and social media, cultural artifacts can be disseminated in a distributed fashion faster than ever before. When something attains phenomenon status via viral means, it becomes a meme. But, just like a real virus, memes can quickly die off. What's everyone talking about today that will be gone tomorrow? Ken Gagne demonstrates what a double rainbow means and who your man could smell like.

The timing was perfect, as in mid-July 2010, two different Internet phenomena were swiftly making their way into the public consciousness: Double Rainbow and Old Spice Guy. In fact, interest in the latter peaked the week of July 11–17, the week leading up to KansasFest, yet many geeks were still unfamiliar with these memes. KansasFest 2010 was a limited-time opportunity to share this hot topic before it became yesterday's news.

The first meme was "Double Rainbow", which has as its root this video of a mountain man who is overcome by the double rainbow in his backyard. The longer he records the experience, the more emotional he becomes:

The video, uploaded in January 2010, didn't achieve viral status until June, when it was tweeted by comedian and television host Jimmy Fallon. Soon, the video was everywhere, as were its spoofs — from the autotuned music video and the KFC drive-thru (both available in the above YouTube playlist) to Bill Amend's own FoxTrot strip.

I then moved on to a more voluminous meme. In February 2010, Old Spice began a creative marketing campaign that implied use of their body wash could make its customers as attractive as former NFL wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa. "We're not saying this body wash will make your man into a romantic millionaire jet fighter pilot," says the original video's description, "but we are insinuating it."

On June 29, 2010, Old Spice debuted a second video with all the discontinuity of a dream. Again, everyone was talking about it — but the real genius happened two weeks later, on July 12. Old Spice collected over a hundred blog posts, YouTube comments, and Twitter tweets talking about the commercials and uploaded individual YouTube responses to each one. From bigwig entities like Starbucks and GQ to Internet users Anonymous and Pancakehumper, Mustafa had something to say to almost everyone. The most notorious replies were those directed at former Who's the Boss? star Alyssa Milano; despite being a married woman, she was nonetheless the subject of Mustafa's outrageous flirtations. Again, these videos are available in the above playlist.

Though these videos are not strictly show business, they are remarkable examples of how videos can disseminate to an audience of millions, both with and without corporate backing — potentially providing a lucrative sum in YouTube partnership revenue and associated merchandise.

Here is a video of my presentation of these videos.

Thanks to all KFesters for their positive reception to this tangent!

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