Memes. Mutation and Cultural Artifacts

by Dorn Martell

New Zealand 3011 – A team of archeologists were examining the remains of a village from the 21st century and came across an artifact that was quite puzzling. It was a well-preserved ceramic mug with a strange drawing of a baby monkey going backwards on a pig. Was it a Hindu religious icon? A depiction of the Chinese lunar calendar or was it the most misunderstood phenomenon of the digital age – The Meme.

A Meme is a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes. And like genes they mutate over time. To understand this meme we call Baby Monkey, we must first explore its provenance.

A video of a tiny monkey riding backward on a small pig was shot somewhere in Asia with a hand-held consumer video camera. That video was posted on YouTube and received hundreds of thousands of views. It was then “discovered” by punk rock band Nerf Herder’s front man Parry Gripp. Parry scored it with the lyric “Baby monkey going backwards on a pig” and it went viral all over the world.

But it didn’t end there. You see, memes are more than just peer-to-peer sharing, they inspire parody, mutations and millions of people who want to be a part of it. In fact there are countless variations of this video on YouTube featuring re-mixes, dubsteps, reenactments and bad photoshop jokes. It has even spun-off into an iPhone app. But the only mutation that will last into the future is the ceramic mugs created by Tinsley Advertising’s Associate Creative Director Rick Blitman (Rick’s Bad Art). The mug, unlike the fad, will not fade or decay. But when a future viewer sees it, will it make any sense at all? It’s impossible to tell.

There is a distinct possibility that some memes will become part of our cultural vernacular the same way that archaic terms from our past like, “Three sheets to the wind”. (a term for being drunk – derived from the erratic behavior of a sailing ship with mis-aligned sails).

But will things like “Antoine Dodson“, “Charley the Unicorn“ or “Nyan Cat“ evolve into an enduring part of our collective consciousness? Or will the original meaning be lost and the reference survive like, “freezing the balls off a Brass Monkey” (originally refering to a “Brass Monkey”-a device that held cannon balls that would fail in cold weather.)

New memes are being spawned every day and new parodies and mutations will continue. To be relevant, when communicating with a new generation of digital natives, we must be aware of the power of memes, the challenge of context and the fact that really silly stuff will always get more attention than overt sales pitches.

It’s All About Recruits

by Dorn Martell

“We have 365 days of recruiting to do and we have thirty days to do it.”

Those were the marching orders we received, two days into the thirty-day recruiting window, from the University of Miami Athletic Department. New head Coach Al Golden had replaced beleaguered Head Coach Randy Shannon and was on a mission to build next year’s team – FAST!

The solution was a surgical strike, e-mail blast program, targeting the best High School players in the country. Each day prospective players would receive a new e-mail highlighting one of the many benefits of becoming a Hurricane. Our messages were short and simple, geared perfectly to students who are not impressed with long copy and old school communications.

The final blast of the program led prospects to, an interactive micro-site developed by Tinsley in just two weeks. At prospective players can opt-in by uploading a photo, entering their name, and choosing a number. The site then generates a composite image of the student wearing a Miami Hurricane uniform with their number of choice.

Signing day was a huge success! The Canes signed 16 new recruits, including eight who had committed to other schools and switched to Miami. “Gionna Paul probably is our favorite [story],” Miami coach Al Golden said. “He went from not wanting to talk to us to getting a “U” tattoo.” What could be a greater measure of success than getting your target audience to wear your brand for life!

For more details click here.

Look for more on the viral success of in the coming weeks.




66% of companies are Using Social Media in 2009

Nearly two out of three companies are Using Social Media in 2009.

As marketers embrace new media platforms, social media and viral videos have seen the largest jump in ranking, according to a survey done by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers), BtoB Magazine and in partnership with marketing services firm ‘mktg.’ The survey had the following findings:

  • 66 percent of marketers utilized social media in 2009, as compared to 20 percent in 2007
  • Fifty percent employ viral videos, up from only 25 percent in 2007
  • 55 percent of respondents funded new media formats by shifting funds from their traditional media budget, while 48 percent shifted funds from other marketing communications budgets. Twenty-six percent of marketers created an incremental budget.
  • The top concerns for marketers when considering newer media platforms are the inability to prove ROI (45 percent) and having metrics to properly allocate the mix of traditional and digital media (43 percent)
  • Among social networks being embraced by all marketers, the top sites used are:
    • Facebook (74 percent)
    • YouTube (65 percent)
    • Twitter (63 percent)
    • LinkedIn (60 percent)