Old spice & memes

I've been thinking for a few months about the cause behind the amazing success of the 'Old Spice' viral and response campaign.

See the truly epic numbers below.
Source: www.culture-buzz.com

But how can we explain this astonishing success?

Susan Stancombe (founder and MD here at Stancombe Research and Planning) recently brought up the topic of 'memes'. Without going into too much depth, a 'meme' is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea (source: http://netforbeginners.about.com). Note: For a more in-depth explanation go to wikipedia here

From my understanding, what makes memes so interesting is that they behave exactly like genes and viruses. Meaning memes can:
  • Be passed on virally through the media or from person to person, e.g. viral marketing
  • Replicate themselves by effecting people's behaviour which in turn effects how others behave, e.g. notice how there is always 'a new black' everyone starts copying
  • Evolve to suit environmental pressures/factors to survive, e.g. we see this happen in the music world a lot
Memes are a difficult concept to understand since they only exist only in our minds. Unlike DNA and viruses, we can't actually see a meme! However, it could be argued that the pandemic spread of ideas like the 'Old Spice' campaign not only proves the existence of memes, but they've most likely existed since the birth of the human race (i.e. think about the spread of religion)

The concept of a meme as a living breathing 'idea' that can spread is a challenging one, but offers a different perspective on how to view cultural trends and phenomena, i.e. which ideas will adapt and thrive over time (e.g. religion) and which ideas will spread quickly and eventually be snuffed out (e.g. boy bands)