Tracking How and Why Internet Memes Become Viral

 In Consumer Behavior, Growth, Online Advertising, Popular, Social Marketing, Tech News, Traffic Sources, Trends

Have you ever wondered how a frowning cat became an internet sensation and was featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal? Never underestimate the power of the Internet. The Internet was designed to provide a global platform for communication and collaboration, so it’s no surprise that the distribution of information and virality are at its core. And what’s more viral that internet memes?

Memes are individual slices of culture that are passed along from person to person and evolve along the way. They can be images, videos or even short snippets of text. As long as they are humorous and spread rapidly on the internet, they are internet memes. Grumpy Cat, Success Kid, Ridiculously Photogenic Guy, Alex from Target… We can all name a few memes,  but most of us don’t know how they became part of pop culture. Here are some things you probably didn’t know about three memes that broke the internet.

1. Success Kid

Success Kid

This picture of 11-month-old Sammy Griner was first uploaded by his mother to her Flickr account and Getty Images in late 2007. By January 2008, it had spread like wildfire and Success Kid was commonly used as the profile image for many MySpace users.

Marketers were quick to jump on Success Kid’s success and in February 2012 the British media and telecommunications company Virgin Media incorporated Success Kid into their marketing tactics, featuring Sammy’s image on their billboards. Most recently, Success Kid was used to fundraise $90,000 for Sammy’s father kidney transplant in April of this year.

2. The Most Interesting Man in The World

Most Interesting Man in The World

Remember this guy? This meme is one of the most commercialized ones to date, which makes sense when you think about how it was created. The Most Interesting Man in The World is a by-product of a Dos Equis ad campaign, in which this gentleman that has clearly lived life to its fullest shares his past adventures over a beer. This situation is very unique, as businesses have a tendency to follow and mimic pop culture in their attempts to be front-of-mind and connect to their consumers. Dos Equis reached the holy grail of marketing: Global consumers engaging with, talking about and sharing a brand advertisement. This meme has even been used by other companies to share very serious information: In 2012 SEOMoz, a well known SEO and SMO platform, announced it’s Round B funding of $18 million using this meme.

3. Sexy Mugshot Guy

Sexy Mugshot Guy

In 2014, Jeremy Meeks became an overnight internet celebrity after his mugshot was leaked and went viral on the Internet. Those light blue eyes and chiseled jawline turned Meeks into the most desired prisoner on the internet. People were having all sorts of fun with his photo, photoshopping him into Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss ads and sharing these images like crazy on Facebook and Twitter. As a result, Meeks signed a modelling agreement while still in prison. After he serves his 27-month sentence, Meeks may be the world’s next top model. This just goes to show that you never know how or when you will get your 15 minutes of fame.

If you think that tracking the journey of popular memes from inception to virality to mainstream is interesting, vote for our panel at SXSW. In our session, we will identify the websites and social influencers that drove a handful of memes to gain popularity and outline the user’s entire journey from content discovery to engagement and active distribution.

Join us on this wild journey we call “The Life and Death of Internet Memes” by voting for our panel at SXSW Interactive 2016. You can even choose the memes you want us to investigate using the comment section.

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