virus: contagious memes

Ben Mack (
21 Jan 99 10:10:36 -0800

Hi all,

I work in advertising. I work as an account planner, representing the voice of the consumer in the agency. I moderate focus groups, but I rely on my understanding of memetics heavily. Here's the million dollar question:

What are the elements of a highly communicable meme?

I have two areas of inquiry here:
1) what are the parameters of a highly communicable meme? What are the elements necessary to have an idea take on an elevated life, where
the meme from the commercial or movie or news or what-have-you continues through culture when the source is no longer present.

2) what are the waves of structure that breed a highly communicable meme? Are there elements of the source that make a meme more contagious? Obviously, media weight comes into play, in terms of exposure, but are there common patterns in terms of how powerful memes spread the fastest? For instance, Starbucks uses a build out plan that mirrors growth of stones as seen on a go board.

I'm not talking about memes in terms of "effective" advertising. Ads can be very effective without taking on the type of life I'm referring to. I'm talking about stuff like The Energizer Bunny, "Where's the beef?" or Big Mac Attack. Last summer, we had the phrase, "Show me the money."

These are ideas that became emblematic of something larger than their source. My first take as to the source of their life-spring is that these ideas express an emotion or a shared perception where their hadn't been a way of communicating these notions before.

For instance, the advertisers of McDonalds realized that people often notice they are really hungry and need food quickly. If they don't eat, they just keep thinking about eating. They labeled this sensation a "Big Mac Attack." Within a couple months after running, people were using the phrase "Big Mac Attack" to mean the sudden onset of hunger as opposed to meaning they were necessarily going to McDonalds.

Obviously, having a word or phrase makes it easier to bring into language. The Energizer Bunny is a notable exception. The image connected with people before the phrase "Energizer Bunny" came about.

I'm wondering if something in chaos theory suggests levels of stability or complexity, or if there is another discipline that suggests the stages of development these memes go through.

I look forward to hearing your comments.


P.S. Are there any colleges offering classes in memetics?