A meme, as defined by ‘Merriam-Webster’ is a catchphrase or concept that spreads virally. It may be a picture with text superimposed on it, a video clip of someone doing something silly, or an idea expressed in the form of a story.
Such memes have spread to television and radio shows, music videos and entire billboard advertisements. Memes are so popular for several reasons: they’re consumable content in short format, easily shared via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; they require little effort to create (or even less knowledge) but provide vast entertainment value; most importantly, memes are ‘sticky’. For any given person in the U.S., an average of 50-70% of memes that they encounter will be something that they have not seen before. This is due to the ‘novelty factor’ of memes: people tend to share anything new and different without hesitation [or legitimate reason]. This provides a steady stream of content for individuals and companies, and internet users take advantage of this by developing communities (online or off) for sharing ideas and interests around said novelties. The more popular a meme becomes, the more it evolves through the aforementioned factors; thus creating a cycle which, given enough time/attention, can lead into viral status. It should also be noted that such popularity among such a large scope has proven to only apply in the U.S.: while memes originating from other countries often gain traction stateside, the same cannot be said vice versa.
A meme, as defined by ‘Merriam-Webster’ is a catchphrase or concept that spreads virally. It may be a picture with text superimposed on it, a video clip of someone doing something silly, or an idea expressed in the form of a story. Such memes have spread to television and radio shows, music videos and entire billboard advertisements. Memes from Meme Scout are so popular for several reasons: they’re consumable content in short format, easily shared via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter; they require little effort to create (or even less knowledge) but provide entertainment value; most importantly, they’re ‘sticky’. People in the United States will consume an average of 50-70 percent of memes that they encounter that they have not seen before, which creates a steady stream of content for companies and individuals. As such, there are several factors that contribute to how ‘sticky’ an image is.
Step 1: Uniqueness
Aside from being novel or funny, whether or not an image can be considered sticky comes down to one thing: uniqueness. If something is unique, it’s more likely to get noticed, stand out among existing trends/memes, and gain traction online. A good example would be billionaire Mark Cuban’s meme featuring him wearing a suit made entirely of money. This picture went viral on its own merits (the fact that the man behind Broadcast.com and owner of the Dallas Mavericks is both rich and doesn’t mind showing it off) but gained even more traction when an anonymous person superimposed a picture of Kevin Caffery, a college basketball player from Long Island, on top of Cuban’s body with the text “Mark Cuban is about to show you how much money he has”. This meme proved to be sticky because there was no comparison: the only other instance in which someone had been made out of cold hard cash was in Wall-E in which a robot wore a tie made of dollar bills. The second factor that contributed to its stickiness is one that will unfold in greater detail later in this article: it appealed to people who have difficulty sharing their views in a public setting. The fact that a potential political activist could make a statement without taking any personal risk was a huge incentive, as is the fact that this statement was funny and unique enough to be shareable with friends.
Step 2: Originality
In terms of originality, memes can be either ‘new’ or ‘classic’. Of course, there are some memes out there that have been circulating the web for years now, but they’re still considered new by people who haven’t seen them before because they’ve been disseminating information about politics on the internet recently; thus making them trendier than those which have been around for longer periods of time. Step three will elaborate further on how a long-standing meme maintains its stickiness by still appealing to recent audiences.
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Originality is important because it represents the level of effort put into the creation of a meme. The more effort that’s put into an image, the greater the incentive for people to share it with others, which makes it stickier. For instance, one picture could feature a quote by American President Barack Obama regarding his stance on same-sex marriage in both English and Arabic underneath his portrait; another might simply feature two side-by-side pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong UN with different captions. While both are examples of political memes, only one has original content (the first). This isn’t to say the second doesn’t have its own merits but rather that it would be harder to convince someone to share it. If you think about the effort that goes into sharing an image online, most people would choose to forward something that’s more original than something they’ve seen before instead of creating it themselves.
Step 3: Make others care
Once an image has been deemed relevant by its creator and unique enough to be shared with friends while still remaining novel, there needs to be some emotional incentive. This part is usually abstract but ‘viral’ sentimentality can reach this stage very quickly when someone feels like their cause or creation has affected another person in a positive manner.
The final stage in making a political meme sticky is when the creator makes others care about its relevance. This is a very abstract concept and encompasses a variety of emotions, but one example would be anger. If someone’s social or economic rights have been compromised by their own government, they may feel angry enough to share that with friends which then get picked up by other people who’ve had similar experiences and so forth until it reaches a critical mass online where it poses an immediate threat to the government in question.