Oh Internet, you never cease to amaze me. Just when I feel like we get each other, you come out with something so inherently ridiculous, I can only shake my head, smile and say, "you do you, Internet; you do you." The latest craze in a long line of plankings, lip dubs, Call Me Maybes, horse heads, and Gangnam Styles (if you want more of these, check out our posts on ROFLcon) is The Harlem Shake. The TLDR overview of this new trend goes like this: Normal situation turns into a weird rave-y dance party with this song playing in the background. But I'm not here to talk about "what" it is. I'd rather discuss "why" it is. Why is some video that started in a dorm room inspiring everyone from frat bros to marketing agencies (see below) to go nuts for, quite literally, 15 seconds of Internet fame? The question may be as simple as "there was a huge blizzard in the Northeast this weekend and a ton of people were bored." However, my guess is that it has something to do with this statement: Never underestimate the human need to be a part of the cultural Zeitgeist. Seriously, we even did one. In our study, "The Psychology of Social" (click here to download), we express that social media placates certain inherent human needs to fit in and have a role within the larger group. In 10,000 BC, each member of a group of prehistoric humans had a role - be it hunter, gatherer, or mammoth stylist (those were things, right?). While human roles and needs have changed slightly over the past few thousand years, the group mentality remains. We are, and always have been, a species built on sharing, connection-development, and esteem building. While we no longer have the need for mammoth stylists (I swear those existed), with our Internet/information-driven society, being the one in your group of friends to find these things, create them, or share them allows you to fulfill your role in the larger group. So, why did THIS catch on? It probably has something to do with the group that the creators of the original video has around them. Things spread more easily when the content gets into the hands of influencers. Mix that with the fact that that there is almost no barrier to participate (a camera phone, a song download, a laptop, some friends) add a little absurdity and a lot of fun, and you've got yourself a engagement-driving concoction of excellence.
Last weekend I joined hundreds of internet nerds* at MIT for ROFLCon III, a two-day convention celebrating internet culture and all things meme**. Now a few days out from the numerous panels, lectures and social-outings, I'm left pondering the following key theme and associated takeaways from the event. The Evolution of ROFLCon / The Mainstreaming of the Web Having attended the previous two ROFLCons (2008 and 2010), I've noticed a not-so-subtle shift in the underlying theme/sentiment of each event. Described as the first ever Internet culture conference, ROFLCon was a true celebration of web culture when it occurred in 2008 as iconic content creators, editors and fans gathered together for the first time IRL (in real life). It was a who's who of popular internet stars running the gamut from individuals who had achieved 'internet fame'? via YouTube (Gem Sweater girl), influential content creators (XKCD) and venerable web icons (Tron Guy). At the time, I vividly recall all of my friends giving me blank stares when I rattled off the attendee list and giddily shared highlights of the two days at MIT. In 2010, I returned to Cambridge with high hopes for a repeat event ' two more days of celebrating the joys of the web filled with lots and lots of lolz ' but the tone of the event had clearly shifted. While still celebratory in nature, the main theme of ROFLCon II was the encroachment of the 'mainstream'? upon the formerly more exclusive corners of meme-culture on the web. What was particularly interesting is this 'mainstreaming'? was both embraced ' David and his father from David after the Dentist and Christian Lander of Stuff White People Like were both popular additions to the conference ' and strongly attacked ' Ben Huh of the (I Can Haz) Cheezburger network was grilled (no pun intended) for his monetization of lolcats. Additionally, a common topic of conversation discussed among many panelists was the growing presence of brands and marketers entering the space and the fear around potential implications tied to their entry. This past weekend, rumored to be the last ever ROFLCon, the conference centered around the general sentiment (in the form of passive resignation) that the internet has 'gone mainstream'? and now we must as a community ensure that it is protected. Many panelists from this year have snowballed their 15 minutes of Internet fame into sponsorships and appearances (Nyan Cat was in a Sprint Nexus commercial; Antoine Dodson had a chart-topping iTunes song and an appearance on Tosh.0; Paul 'Double Rainbow Guy'? Vasquez was in a Windows Live Photo Gallery spot) and with that commercial success (albeit likely only momentary), many at ROFLCon questioned if the web is beginning to lose its authenticity and creative spirit. moot, the originator of 4chan and a demi-god within the ROFLcon subculture, shared a somewhat bleak vision for the future of the web: "The web is being stripped of its richness. Memes are the instruments by which we make music. The way things are going, we're going to lose our song.'? I personally disagree with this sentiment. I believe that as more people continue to gain access to high-speed internet and content creation tools, we will come to see even more niche communities sprout on the web. Yes, Facebook and Reddit have arguably replaced forums and AOL chat rooms, but advances in technology and connectivity have provided new outlets for many more creative minds. One of the more interesting panels at ROFLcon examined international 'internet revolutions'? in Brazil, China and Syria and the impact that meme culture has had in providing a voice to the people in each country. And the best part, what's funny in Brazil or edgy in Syria is not necessarily funny or edgy in the US. The web is wonderful because it can offer content and utilities that are designed for mass consumption, but it can just as easily provide a voice to a solitary cause or community, or it can simply be a place where you upload your really awkward prom pictures or that video you made when trying to complete the cinnamon challenge. There were still very many lolz at this year's ROFLCon. And as an advertising guy, it was selfishly rewarding to see Craig Allen of Weiden and Kennedy (he wrote the Old Spice Guy ads) and Isaiah Mustafa (the Old Spice Guy) so warmly embraced during their Q&A. But in addition to the laughs, there were also many serious, important conversations around the future of the web ' mostly re: intellectual property and the remixing of content. It was inspiring to see via a show of hands that almost all of the attendees had taken action in the recent SOPA debacle. And it was great to hear passionate debate around the broader theme of the 'mainstreaming of the web'?. I for one am excited for the next chapter of the web. And as we enter that next chapter, my advice for marketers is don't aim to create memes, and don't simply cut and paste a meme into your advertising efforts in an attempt to be relevant or edgy. As a marketer, I'm incredibly aware of the lines between authenticity and blatant commercialization, and consumers can very quickly identify the differences between the two. As a brand, aim to create smart, engaging content, and then open the doors for your consumers to make it their own. Author Notes: *I use "nerd" in a loving context - I consider myself part of the collective. ** From Wikipedia, an internet 'meme'? is used to describe any 'concept that spreads via the Internet'?
Back in April, a few of us attended the quasi-yearly celebration of all-things internet known as ROFLcon. Picture what would happen if everything funny or weird you ever saw or heard about on the internet decided to show up at one place and talk about everything funny or weird you ever saw or heard about on the internet; that's ROFLcon. And while this isn't meant to be a summary of ROFLcon - because that would be dated and lame - it is meant to be a preface to the world of memes. Internet memes can be videos, images, websites, stories, or just plain old jokes. They're ideas that are spread around the internet. The idea of memes has been in existence long before the internet. Religious beliefs are essentially memes in that they're spreading cultural ideas or practices. So while memes don't have to be on the internet - the 'Where's the beef'? lady was a meme long before Al Gore even invented the web - they have certainly found their place on it. So how do you make one? Well, this may not lead to internet gold, but here are 5 ways to help you on your journey. Step 1: First off, don't call it viral until it's viral'?¦ and even then, don't call it viral Nothing is more off-putting than someone asking you to create, or telling someone that you're planning to make a viral video. I once saw a vendor presentation that said one of their capabilities was viral videos. Really? Let's be straight here, YOU do not create a viral video. The thousands of people watching, commenting and sharing the video do. That's more of a pet peeve than a key to success. Okay, here we go; the 4 keys to creating an internet meme. Step 1: Be funny, absurd, or shocking'?¦and if you can't, include an old person, baby, or cute animal I don't have the stats here, but out of the millions of non-adult videos, and photos on the internet, let's assume that 1% are popular enough to reach 'meme'? status. Can we agree that a large portion of those are overwhelmingly funny, absurd, shocking, have an old person, baby or cute animal? Let's. Step 2: Don't try too hard'?¦in fact, don't really try at all Most of the stories you hear about internet memes start with 'I was just making something for my friends'?. Most memes don't intend to be memes, they just sort of happen. This is where many brands and agencies fall short. They try too hard to be cool and different, or try too hard to make money. If you lose that organic and genuine feel, you lose the impact. Step 3: Encourage participation One of my favorite memes, Archaic Rap, mostly reached meme status because it's really fun to create them on your own. People love showing other people how funny/creative/knowledgeable about hip-hop lyrics they are, and this one gives them a chance to. The idea of in-jokes and obscure pop culture references are perfect cultivators for memes because people like to show others that they 'get'? them. Step 4: Get it to the influencers Video's up on YouTube? Done! Not so much. Successful branded content usually has a PR or social push behind it to get it into the right influencer hands to ensure it spreads. Unbranded user content usually has a similar approach, though it's usually unplanned. Send it to the right people, and it will spread. You'll be surprised how big Aunt Milly's online network is when babies or cute animals are involved. So that's it. I think we can expect the percentage of good content on the internet to explode after people read this post. In the event you're now inspired to create your own meme, I suggest you visit the folks over at KnowYourMeme.com who have done a great job cataloguing and studying memes from around the internet. It will be a good starting point to get into the psyche of the internet to determine if you have the ability to create the next great meme.
The iNews As usual, Apple was a dominant source of news this week. The company announced that they had reached and surpassed their 1M iPads sold milestone'all within a month of their product launch. Now the question, since all the early adopters have adopted, who will be buying their product next month? Apple also released more information about their anticipated iAd platform, a service which will allow brands to engage their consumers on Apple products while also surrendering their creative over to Apple designers. The company reported an entry fee of at least $1M for advertisers who want to be involved when the new platform roles out. Marketers must weigh the hefty price tag against the positive PR that will surround being an innovative company who advertises on the new technology. Furthermore, these iAds will be built to support HTML5, and so, the Adobe versus Apple saga continues. Since Steve Jobs' letter last week which sought to explain the company's many reasons for not supporting Adobe Flash on their products, the media has been buzzing about the transition from the Flash platform to more 'open'? alternatives. Online Privacy Outside Cupertino, there's other buzz to be heard. There was much discussion this week on legislation that could significantly impact marketers' use of consumer data online. As the Internet continues to make privacy scarce, lawmakers are attempting to secure users' identifying information'including their IP numbers which facilitate behavioral targeting. This could have implications on how marketers' deliver personalized advertisements. ROFLcon II And digital happenings IRL! The Internet gathered in person last week at MIT for two action-packed days of panels, lectures and keynotes on the ever evolving role of Internet memes and the larger influence of Interent culture in today's world. And of course, there was a little time for chatroulette bingo. What did we learn from two days of rolling-on-the-floor laughing? Internet culture, however loosely defined, is becoming an increasingly powerful influence on the mainstream. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Debate among yourselves within the comments section below, or within the comments on the next cat youtube video that goes viral.