Internet memes may seem like nonsense, a complete waste of time. That they’re something for people with nothing to do but to surf the net all day. But in actuality, these memes are big business. They shape popular culture, change the way we live our lives, and continually evolve with modern society today.

Table of Contents:

  1. What are Internet Memes and Why You Should Care
  2. Top Memes of the Past Decade
  3. Memes as Promotional and Marketing Tools
  4. 12 Creative Design Ideas That Went Viral (And The Lessons You Can Learn)

What are Internet Memes and Why You Should Care

An internet meme is a cultural phenomenon, spreading like a virus, traveling from one person to another swiftly until it takes on a life of its own. “Meme’ is pronounced as ‘meem’, which rhymes with ‘seem’ or ‘team’. Meme is a term coined by Richard Dawkins.

Memes are usually jokes, urban legends, viral videos, funny pictures or contagious music. Memes today hugely influence modern language and culture. They shape how the youth, and the whole internet user population for that matter, live their lives.

Marketing, advertising and promotions professionals embrace memes, because it’s inexpensive and trendy; plus its unique characteristic is to spread like a virus.

The more people go online, the stronger memes will be. Memes equals money. Memes have assisted in producing fame and fortune for many people, transforming nobodies to overnight sensations in the blink of an eye. Memes are a great opportunity; always at work even during your offline hours, always up for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Science behind the Power of Funny Internet Memes

What is the science behind the power of online memes? The year 2000 onwards foresaw the meme phenomena, which subtly represents the tones of today’s social etiquette and culture. Today’s culture and humor keeps on evolving everyday. The cultural impact of Memes cannot be ignored. In fact, it can even be a tool for self-promotion, branding and marketing that will ensure your fame and success.

To prove our point, we’ll give you an example. One of the most popular memes of all time is the many pictures of the cat with funny, captions that throw grammar out the window. It is created by Hawaiian blogger  Eric Nakagawa with girlfriend Kari Unebasami. Do you know how much these cat pictures are worth?

The Original ‘I can has cheezburger?’ (Image from Mental Floss)

Nakagawa’s website dedicated to lolcats is now worth $2 million. It is the most popular internet web site displaying pictures of cats, receiving as many as 1.5 million hits in a day. In a year the page receives over half a billion, yep billion, page visits, making it in league with other major news empires’ sites like the Huffington Post or NY Times. They’re being extra profitable, just by creating memes. Nakagawa’s web site generates images of these adorable cats and kittens with humorous captions. Pretty impressive, for cats.

These memes are outrageously funny, and they don’t need a lot of time to enjoy. They take a few minutes of your time, and in the case of the lolcats, only a few seconds of your time. But don’t start thinking coming up with a meme is easy. Scientists and researchers have tried to study and understand memes. Every detail is taken into account, to know why this meme succeeded and why another meme failed.

Researchers have difficulty studying memes, because unlike previous cultural phenomenons, the internet meme does not have the problem of lacking cultural artifacts, but rather its exponential growth. Memes spread like wildfire from social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg and Reddit.

Memes are highly unpredictable and untraceable: there is no hard science on which picture, video, or joke will go viral next. In fact, a meme can be ignored for a long time before it explodes. One good example is Rebecca Black’s Friday video, which was uploaded on February 2011 before comedian Michael J. Nelson tweeted about it saying ‘Songwriting isn’t for Everyone’. It became infamous almost overnight.

The lesson here is that we can’t force a meme to become a viral hit. You do have to rely on luck a little bit. Memes may bring you different results than what you expected. To be honest, memes are more of an art than a science.

Top Memes of the Past Decade

I will share with you the top memes of the last ten years (erroneous sentence, because memes didn’t exist before that) and why they are so successful. What made these memes click? What did we learn from them and how can we achieve the same success?

1. Planking

Planking, also known as the lying down game, is an activity that consists of a person lying face down with arms at the sides, photographed and shared online. The term ‘planking’ refers to the activity of imitating a wooden plank. Plankers try to find the most unusual and most humorous places to ‘plank’. Some of the most unusual places to plank include roofs, poles, on top of vehicles, even on toilets.

Image from Baller Status

Planking (Image from Heavy)

Extreme Planking with the Help of Photoshop (Image by Fred Caiveau)

Planking has led to other variations such as owling, jebbing, teacupping,and lately, horsemanning etc. It has its own holiday, ‘Global Planking Day’. Even big celebrities like Katy Perry, Chris Brown, Tom Green and Justin Bieber have joined in on the fun.

Katy Perry Planking (Image from Popcrush)

Although planking seems like a harmless enough game, there are always daredevils out there who seem to want to be in trouble’s way. Planking has caused many accidents or issues.

Dangerous Planking (Image from Free Jokes Funny)

Seven doctors and nurses have allegedly been suspended for ‘planking’ while on duty. One man has also been arrested for planking on a police vehicle. Worse, A 20 year old man, Acton Beale, fell to his death after attempting to plank on a 7th floor balcony in Australia.

2. Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’

Rebecca Black is the epitome of ‘Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all’. Her video ‘Friday’ on YouTube has 3.1 million dislikes (or 87.1% of the total ratings). Despite that, she has amassed 167 million views and hundreds of parodies. It is the 22nd most viewed video on YouTube of all time, before it was taken down on June 16 as per Black’s request.

If you take a look at her ‘Friday’ video, you’ll see that the song lyrics are terrible, and the video just mediocre and the use of auto-tune was heavily criticized as well.She’s now a millionaire because of her publicity (albeit negative). ‘Friday’ was hated by the public, but proved to be a commercial success: in a matter of days, iTunes received 2 million downloads and with an iTunes payout of $0.70 per download, earning the singer about US $1.4 million in just a few days. Not bad for a thirteen-year-old.

3. Chuck Norris Jokes

Chuck Norris jokes are about the martial artist and actor Chuck Norris, stating exaggerated claims about Chuck Norris’  strength, ability, toughness, endurance, or everything else what makes him awesome. The claims are mostly absurd which is what makes them so hilarious. These jokes have spread around the globe via the internet.

Image from Techworld

The Chuck Norris jokes first appeared on Late night with Conan O’Brien, and started appearing on the internet. It was a huge hit. Chuck Norris himself was flattered and found them humorous, but tries to not take them seriously.

Some of our favorite Chuck Norris jokes are:

‘Chuck Norris counted to infinity… twice.’

‘Chuck Norris has already been to Mars. That is why there are no signs of life there.’

‘Chuck Norris doesn’t cheat death, he beat it fair and square.’

‘Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding.’

‘Chuck Norris made a Happy Meal cry.’

4. Famous Dancing Baby

The famous dancing baby animation, also known as Baby Cha Cha, is a short 3D animation of a baby, dancing cha-cha to the intro of the song ‘Hooked on a Feeling’. This short animation is among the earliest examples of online memes, having spread through chain e-mails.

It has appeared in several shows and parodies, where it became a recurrent hallucination in the ‘Ally McBeal’ series.

We love babies, they’re cute and adorable, ergo babies sell. We love them more if they can do crazy things they normally can’t. The Dancing Baby Meme was so popular it even spawned many imitations, parodies, remixes. One such is the viral ad ‘Evian Roller Babies’ featuring babies dancing and hopping in skates.

5. People of Wal-Mart

People of Wal-Mart features heavyweight, poorly dressed and just plain crazy people who shop at Wal-Mart. The pictures are absurd, silly, weird, and some are just gross. You can check all the funny pictures on their official website. Basically the web site mocks the shoppers of Wal-Mart. This internet meme is not for everyone, as it may offend some people, but you’re invited to check it out or just leave.

6. Demotivational Posters

Demotivational posters are spoofs of the often clichéd motivational posters found in corporate offices and such. Like a motivational poster, it consists of a single picture, with a black border, with an all caps title in white, usually a serif font. Most often it is followed by a subheading in smaller font.

The purpose of motivational posters is to inspire, demotivational posters work the opposite: they are pessimistic in nature. These are among the most common memes today, seen all over the cyberspace and shared among social networking sites. There are now dozens of websites dedicated to generating these hilarious demotivational posters.

These posters are effective because they’re simple, sweet and fast. They’re really funny too. It shows that one strong, single picture can be very devastatingly powerful when paired with witty copy.

7. Y U NO Guy

Y u no guy is a cartoon featuring a highly annoyed face, with his hands out and palms outward, as if screaming ‘Y U NO?’. It characteristically uses ‘text’ style grammar. It first appeared on Tumblr on LOLTumblrWallpapers, which instantly received 10,000 reblogs.


Inspiration for Y U NO GUY (Image from Know your Meme)

Y U NO GUY is inspired by a character from Gantz, on Chapter 55: Naked King. His facial expression shows extreme rage and frustration.

Other internet meme characters that are part of the Rage comics include Cereal Guy, Lol Guy, Okay Guy, Forever Alone, PFFFFT, Troll face, Me Gusta and more.

Other Meme Characters

Memes as Promotional and Marketing Tools

Memes should not be seen as a link building tool, but rather as an effective promotional and marketing tool. Viewers can relate better to a meme than a long article. Thus it is effective in creating a loyal online following base, where they can keep on coming back to your website. The meme can create ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty’ in your web base, an integral value in marketing.

But memes can travel from one site to another, from one social networking site to another, thus you cannot be the sole carrier of the meme even if you are the owner. How can your site benefit from the meme if this is the case?

Of course you are recognized as the source of the meme. As the internet meme gets more popular, searches increase and thus bring more visitors to your web site. Successful meme marketing is a lot like viral marketing. It builds up online credibility, increasing social popularity. More and more people come to your site web site. If they enjoy it, they share it to their fellow friends. Thus it creates a domino effect, reaching millions of viewers in a short time. Memes are like a self-replicating virus.

Memes may work like magic overnight, or they may take time to spread. Social networking web sites aid in spreading your internet meme. Because of this, social networking is the perfect avenue to test the success of your meme by tracking its popularity and reading comments and reviews. Memes are still largely unknown and mysterious even to the best researchers, but one thing is known: memes are one of the most important tools in online marketing today.

Now let’s take a look at some ideas that have gone viral.

12 Creative Design Ideas That Went Viral (And The Lessons You Can Learn)

In this post I’ll feature some web designs that went viral on StumbleUpon/Digg/other social media sites and the lessons you can learn from them. As you browse the designs, I’m pretty sure you’ll find some common patterns I overlooked. If you see that, let me know in the comments :) For now, let’s get started.

One more thing before we start. The lessons I’ll share are just principles and observations that come from my 3+ experience in viral marketing and getting over a million people to my websites. Feel free to disagree with some of the principles and let me know why in the comments below. Now, let’s REALLY get started :)

1. Man in The Dark


What can we learn from this: People want control. That’s one of the reasons games are more engaging than videos. This animation makes use of that principle by giving people an incredible control over the flying man. Even if you move your mouse a little bit, you should get him flying immediately. The lesson here is: If you’re making a game or an animation people can control, ask yourself how can you make it so even a small move with the mouse (smallest effort people can possibly take while sitting on a computer) can produce a ‘wow’ results.

2. 10 Common Misonceptions Dispelled (Infographic)

What can we learn from this: Appeal to the general audience. Going niche doesn’t work if you want to go viral (except if the niche is fascinating for the general public, like astronomy). This infographic is a great example of appealing to the overall mass population. The name is ’10 Common Misconceptions Dispelled’, not ’10 Common Teeth Whitening’ or ’10 Common Acne’ misconceptions. In viral, fun and entertainment are a priority over being informative.

3. Horses Singing

What can we learn from this: There are so many principles behind this viral flash ‘game’, but I think what’s most important here is unexpectedness; when horses open their mouth, you expect that awful and loud voice. But these horses can sing; and they can actually sing in chorus! Imagine real horses doing that; one of the most annoying things in the world? :)

4. Different Live Quotes

What can we learn from this: As a general rule of thumb, too much text doesn’t work in viral (see why in the next lesson). That doesn’t mean, however, that text doesn’t work at all. This example shows that. If you combine it with something insightful (like quotes), funny (once someone on Twitter made an account named “shit my dad says”), anything that brings emotions, you should have a good probability most people are going to like it.

5. TheOatMeal

What can we learn from this: I’ve actually known this OatMeal guy before he went viral on Digg. I expected his site to be great success, but never expected it would get viral to this extent! (his site is in the top 2500 most visited sites in the world according to Alexa). He taught me one very important thing with his designs. You see, there is a lot of text in some of his infographics. But it’s all illustrated, like a comics, and the text accompanies the graphic rather than the graphic accompanying the text. This is a very important distinction to make; if the text accompanies the graphic then you try to illustrate as many things as you can with the graphic, while the reverse is true with the graphic accompanying the text (like in this article, for example).

6. TypoOrganism ASCII (or, it’s Obama in ASCII!)

What can we learn from this: Ah, the power of associations. Combining technology + famous people = win. You could argue that we were making all these ‘associations’ in the previous examples as well (connecting pictures with emotions etc). But this is different. In this example, there is a politician, a celebrity. Some will like this and some will not. But they would both agree this is ‘fascinating’. A lesson/idea: You can take a present trend/famous person and make a creative design out of it. Like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

7. Drawing Example

What can we learn from this: Most people like drawings. If you’re a drawing master, why not try and submit your masterpiece on StumbleUpon? Or alternatively you can find a drawing group on Facebook and post it there and see what happens (just make sure the group/page has enough members!) Drawings go viral on StumbleUpon.

8. ShinyBinary – Oh, It’s So Beautiful!

What can we learn from this: People love beautiful stuff. Now, aren’t different things beautiful to different people? Not really. For example, if you show the 2 pictures above to different people. most will say they’re quite beautiful. Maybe 2 in 30 will say they don’t like the pictures. But the rest 28 will usually say positive stuff. And not surprisingly, beautiful things often go viral ! They appeal to most (remember the second principle, appeal with information? Well this is same just you’re appealing with beautiful stuff).

If you want to see whether something you designed is beautiful or not, try sending it to 5 people (but don’t tell them it’s your design) and hear what they think.

9. Fractal World Gallery

What can we learn from this: Making a showcase of beautiful pictures/designs used to work quite successfully on StumbleUpon. This isn’t the case anymore (they still work, but not so phenomenal like previously), not because of the pictures but other factors. If you show same things to people all the time, they’ll become accustomed to those things and they’ll lose they effectiveness. The things they see will become ordinary and ordinary is the enemy of viral and buzz. So why am I telling you this? Because you can make twists for these showcase posts and make them ‘not-so-ordinary’.

Most people just throw a bunch of pictures for a particular topic, name it ‘x beautiful [theme] pictures’ and that’s it. Boring. Imitation works for getting viral, but not for long. Here are some ideas on twists you can make:

’10 Remarkably Similar, Yet Very Different [theme] Designs’

’10 Designs and Their Ugly Counterparts’ (you can show similar designs here, first the ugly one, and then the beautiful one)

10. Iconscrabble

What can we learn from this: Simplicity helps a lot. Especially if you have a site where people are just trying to do 1 thing (like search for something). If you’ve noticed, all the previous examples are kinda simple, they don’t have any extra parts that take your attention. They make you focus on the ‘meat’ and don’t do much fluff.

11. Phong

What can we learn from this: When this animation started, something strange happened to me. I started associating the animation with the essence of life, the stars, the universe…and I bet most people also did that when they saw this. Can you do this with your design? Can you insert an element which will help visitors associate your design with the essence of life? Some objects that can help you accomplish this are: stars, galaxies, planets etc. But it’s not just about what you present, it’s about HOW you present it. Just take a look at this animation and its slow motion. Think on how you can present your static/animation design. Slow motion usually helps a lot in the ‘how to present it’ part.

12. LAB – Freestyle Creativity

What can we learn from this: At the end, it’s important to mention that there are not specific rules for going viral. There is a dose of randomness in the viral formula. The more viral designs you see, the more you can ‘steal’ from them and then make your own ones. This is an example of what I call a ‘freestyle creativity’, the guy probably just said ‘I found this fascinating and other people will probably find it too’ and went with that design. There’s no rule that says you can’t do the same too.

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