Social Networking: Superpowering The Meme-ing of Life

At some point along the way, the notion of ‘an inside joke’ was rechristened as the far more intellectual sounding ‘meme.’  A meme is a fancy term for a catchphrase, concept or joke form that pops up and spreads seemingly spontaneously among certain groups.

You’ve seen memes on line, even if you’ve never called them by that name.  The LOL Cats have been an adorably-daffy theme for a long time.  The Courage Wolf is a meme, and a damned manly one at that.  Kanye West’s “I’mma let you finish” take-offs, the supered Hitler commentaries, the keyboard cat riffs: all of them set up an idea and then spurs a digital form of ‘top this’ that encourages people to jump in and contribute to the fun.  As links spread through emails. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook postings, the virulence of these memes expands exponentially.

Which brings me, however circuitously, to explaining the attached photos of Steve.  Steve is a two inch plastic elephant that our creative team found on the sidewalk outside the New Zealand airport when they first arrived last week.  He has been quickly adopted as a good luck totem for this shoot, earning the title ‘the pachyderm of positivity’ and being featured in an ever-widening array of digital portraits.  Over the past week, Steve has shown up everywhere they have: traipsing across a black sand beach, in the hands of Japanese tourists, on a deep purple cabbage in a field of produce.

The internet can be a magnificent source for information.  But add the lighthearted sociability of social networks, and it’s suddenly a highly-amplified source for amusement and sharing.  In a very human way, meme-ing brings meaning to life as people look for ways to connect with others through the social delight of creativity.  A smile or a laugh is powerful currency in a social network, which is why any decent meme accelerates so quickly when introduced there.

And so, should the Steve the plastic elephant meme ever start trending toward ubiquity, I’ll be sure to name-check him in my Facebook update.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


WWHD? The Comic Virulence of the Hitler YouTube Meme

Knock-knock jokes…  Top Ten lists…  “That’s what she said”…  Over time, cultures build stockpiles of shared comic references.  Back when we all watched Saturday Night Live, everyone copped Dana Carvey’s “Isn’t that special?” complete with the Church Lady’s off-balance lip pursing.  More recently, Kanye West’s obnoxiousness led to a spate of  “Imma let you finish–” bits.  Sharing laughs around common reference points builds bonds between people, and simply makes the day pass more pleasantly…Picture 1

So it’s no surprise that this video popped up at the end of last week.  Mark Wegener, the man behind the consistently intelligent humor of ‘Local Paper’, passed along this latest version of Downfall, this time with Bruno Ganz’ Hitler screaming about the news media’s breathless over-coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax.

These days, you really are nowhere in the cultural landscape if you haven’t been referenced and had the piss taken out of you by ridiculous subtitles laid over this 2004 Oscar nominated film.  Type “Hitler Downfall” into YouTube’s search box and you’ll get 2,280 hits.  People have re-edited this clip to make Hitler rail on everything from Twitter’s server fail to Michael Bay’sTransformers to Tony Romo dumping Jessica Simpson.  It’s become such a common reference point it’s even gone meta, with Hitler losing it over his discovery of all the Hitler parodies.

It will take a far smarter person than me to explain our collective subconscious enjoyment of seeing history’s most notorious villain alternatively simper and explode over the banal topics of everyday life.  But the simpler truth is that the internet, originally designed to link brainiacs involved in military research and development, now serves a far more noble purpose: enabling distant people–often complete strangers–to satisfy our deeply human need for connection.  And laughter.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

WWHD? The Comic Virulence of the Hitler YouTube Meme

Knock-knock jokes…  Top Ten lists…  “That’s what she said”…  Over time, cultures build stockpiles of shared comic references.  Back when we all watched Saturday Night Live, everyone copped Dana Carvey’s “Isn’t that special?” complete with the Church Lady’s off-balance lip pursing.  More recently, Kanye West’s obnoxiousness led to a spate of  “Imma let you finish–” bits.  Sharing laughs around common reference points builds bonds between people, and simply makes the day pass more pleasantly…Picture 1

So it’s no surprise that this video popped up at the end of last week.  Mark Wegener, the man behind the consistently intelligent humor of ‘Local Paper’, passed along this latest version of Downfall, this time with Bruno Ganz’ Hitler screaming about the news media’s breathless over-coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax.

These days, you really are nowhere in the cultural landscape if you haven’t been referenced and had the piss taken out of you by ridiculous subtitles laid over this 2004 Oscar nominated film.  Type “Hitler Downfall” into YouTube’s search box and you’ll get 2,280 hits.  People have re-edited this clip to make Hitler rail on everything from Twitter’s server fail to Michael Bay’s Transformers to Tony Romo dumping Jessica Simpson.  It’s become such a common reference point it’s even gone meta, with Hitler losing it over his discovery of all the Hitler parodies.

It will take a far smarter person than me to explain our collective subconscious enjoyment of seeing history’s most notorious villain alternatively simper and explode over the banal topics of everyday life.  But the simpler truth is that the internet, originally designed to link brainiacs involved in military research and development, now serves a far more noble purpose: enabling distant people–often complete strangers–to satisfy our deeply human need for connection.  And laughter.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Pop Culture’s Daily Cliff Notes: Keeping Pace With Google Trends

My venture capital friends don’t concern themselves with whether or not Kevin Jonas is dead (“Kevin Who?  Does he play for the Brewers?”).  My accountant acquaintances may or may not know who Leodis McKelvin is, or care what it means to professional athletes when a poor on-field performance leads to fan vandalism of their homes.  And most anyone I know who is gainfully employed and enjoys a social life of even the most modest proportions has better ways to occupy their time than watching Shaquile O’Neal embarrass himself in a pool against Michael Phelps.

Spiking Up To #29

Spiking Up To #29

But this isn’t a luxury for anyone in advertising.  Being informed about ephemeral pop culture happenings is part of the business.  It’s why I kept a subscription to People for years, despite the certain knowledge that my brain cells shrunk everytime I read it.  It’s why we have to pay attention to pop music and reality TV.  It’s why we have an opinion on Kate Gosselin’s new hairstyle (“Hate the waves!”).

For years, if you had a friend in advertising, you wanted her on your Trivial Pursuit team.  Because advertising people spend countless hours learning the names and attributes of every human footnote who earns even fifteen minutes of fame.

Which is just one more reason why advertising people should embrace the web with appreciative abandon: it makes these needs easier than ever to know.  If you want a list of one hundred topics that are popular right now, you simply punch up Google Trends and the top 100 most discussed topics on the internet are there, neatly listed for your perusal.  Along with perennials like diets and recent television episodes, you will find the names of basically anyone in the news.  And phrases enjoying their moment of pop popularity.

I read through this list every now and then and always learn something that I can use in conversation later.  It’s quick, it’s effective, and it’s glaringly obvious that as a culture, we are not a particularly intellectual bunch.  That said, I took some heart in trend #26 today; apparently a number of people want to learn the definition of “admonish.”  

And you thought boobs like Joe Wilson and Serena Williams and Kanye West couldn’t teach today’s young people anything…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79