Broadly speaking there are two kinds of memes. Some are created by the internet, for the internet. Others come from popular culture and are later harvested for meme fuel. This time in our Don’t Worry, I’m From The Internet (#DWIFTI) strand, we’re looking at something that started in popular culture, was turned into an internet meme, and then was taken back by mainstream media. Oh what a tangled web we weave.
Carly Rae Jepsen finished third on Canadian Idol in 2007. The show’s eventual winner, Brian Melo, has had a modest amount of success in Canada but it’s probably fair to say that Carly’s had rather better luck. Her recent single “Call Me Maybe” has gone to number one everywhere from here to Mars (where Gustav Holst celebrates a 5,113th week at the top of the charts). More importantly, Call Me Maybe has wormed its way into so many ears that a meme was inevitable.
Whether you’re into sugary pop music or not, that is a dangerously catchy chorus. The internet noticed and took it upon themselves to start writing their own lyrics to fit the tune, posting them as tweets, status updates, comments, image macros, and videos. They are everywhere.
Here’s where it gets a bit Human Centipede. Mainstream media notices that the kids have put a trend together and starts thinking about how it can take what they’ve made and put it to use. I recognise that I’m starting to sound a little “it’s the corporations, maaan!” but when a major brand stumbles upon a meme and uses it in its marketing material, the results are usually embarrassing for all concerned. It’s your dad dancing at a wedding and asking if his body’s too bootylicious. Dad… no, please sit down. Where did you even hear that? You listen to Classic FM.
The trouble with memes going mainstream is that it tends to happen long after the initial spark has gone out. By the time you see a meme used in advertising it’s akin to thread necromancy – the original posters have already moved on to another topic and bumping it serves no-one but the newcomer. If you represent a brand and you want to piggyback on a meme, and if it’s important to you that those who started the meme remain on-side, then you have to move fast. There’s a widely held belief that a meme is dead as soon as its co-opted by “The Man.” For your marketing material to avoid attracting negative attention, or no attention at all, you have to be there early enough to appear to be part of the movement. Or you have to be the Cookie Monster.
The Sesame Street video was published a month after the original song first topped the Billboard Hot 100 but has still managed over 7,000,000 views at the time of writing. Most of us would chew off an arm for results like that, but here’s one from another channel with half as many subscribers and twice as many views on its Call Me Maybe parody. The key may well be that it was published the week before Carly Rae Jepsen went to number one in the US.
So, to conclude, here’s a checklist to work through before hitting “publish” on your memetic brand post:
- Are you sure you want to piggyback on a meme?
- No, are you really sure? There’s no guarantee it’ll go well. Okay, fine, I clearly can’t talk you out of it.
- How long has the meme been in circulation? You don’t want to flog a dead horse.
- Is the meme appropriate to your community? The folks on your Metallica fanpage aren’t going to react well to a Call Me Maybe post, no matter how witty.
- Were you thinking of making a “keep calm and carry on” poster? You were, weren’t you! Haven’t we done enough damage to that formerly iconic image?