In the blog The Power of social media I was writing about the Ice Bucket Challenge, which has gone viral all over the world, and analysed some factors that contributed to the viral spread of the donation action. Here I would like to discuss this phenomenon from a different perspective and to discuss how marketing uses memes. To answer this question let’s firstly talk about the definition of a meme. In the last class, which issue was “Memes”, an interesting fundamental question was raised: What is meme and where is the difference between meme and viral? Generally it has been concluded that viral is something (a picture, a video and so on) when it is just shared by many people without significant change. However a meme is shared content that have been reproduced. But as in the Case of the Ice Bucket Challenge it is sometimes not so easy to define whether something is a meme or not.
The first research on the question, what is Ice Bucket Challenge, showed that there is no convention if the Challenge is a viral video or a meme. Different Internet sources term this phenomenon differently. For example, the dailymail.co.uk describes the Ice Bucket Challenge as a viral video campaign. A german newspaper “Frankfurter Rundschau” however calls the Ice Bucket Challenge an internet meme. Furthermore Mashable indicates that the Ice Bucket Challenge “has turned into its own meme“.
As it is often the case with definitions there is not a single one that is trying to explain a phenomenon and also in the case of the definition of meme different sources provide different definitions. Here are some examples:
- Memes can be broadly defined as culturally transmitted information, or ideas and beliefs that can be spread from one organism, or group of organisms, to another. A key component to the meme concept is that the information is able to self-replicate, and in turn undergoes a type of natural selection, much like genes.
- A meme is “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.
- Meme is a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means
- An Internet meme is a piece of culture, typically a joke, which gains influence through online transmission.
Regarding the Ice bucket Challenge we can say that it is an idea that is spread from person to person within a culture (or within several cultures). It’s beyond question that the challenge is viral, but does this idea replicate itself and is it a meme? There are a lot of videos, where different people pour a bucket of ice water over their heads. Is this reproduction or can we say, that these videos don’t have significant changes? Furthermore, there are also other variations of the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Is this a meme?
And what about this one?
How about this classic video?
According to the last definition a meme is typically a joke. The above examples have however nothing to do with humour. The following examples fit rather in the definition of meme
There are lots of similar memes on the Internet. Some of them are just for fun, other respond to the problem of wasting water
This idea was borrowed and adopted by one Brazilian company, which has turned the original challenge into the #emptybucket campaign to show how much water was spent mindlessly during the Ice Bucket Challenge.
On the one hand we could say that it is just another viral campaign based on the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign. But on the other hand the new campaign could be also defined as a meme, as reproduction of the ice bucket Challenge or as a campaign based on the idea of wasting-water-memes.
Another example of a successful adoption of the Ice Bucket Challenge is Samsung’s promotion of the waterproof Samsung Galaxy S5 where the phone takes the Ice bucket Challenge nominating Apple, HTC and Nokia to do the same.
This video is a humorous variation of the original challenge used for advertising purposes and it is again difficult to determine whether this is a meme or not.
In conclusion, I think Mashable was right, writing that the Ice Bucket Challenge “has turned into its own meme“. As it was pointed out in the lecture, it is probably not possible to make anything a meme or to force an Internet meme. What can be done is watching the development of Internet trends and memes to create new interesting ideas for businesses.