Culture defines an identity for a community sharing common beliefs, mostly manifesting itself in acquired behaviour learnt from parents or peers, directly or indirectly. However, no matter howsoever definitive, culture is anything but static. Something akin to a dynamic force, culture keeps on evolving and finds ways to manifest itself across the entire society capable of understanding that special unique context. Meme, a word coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins to capture that abstract packet of idea transmitted from one human to another in a society may only be one small manifestation and reflection of the cultural standing of a society; nevertheless it makes for an interesting phenomenon worth understanding.
The society that Richard understood then, would have transmitted words; phrases etc. which he called meme from one human to another till it reached the entire society and achieved a stage where it could be contextualized for other discussions. At the same time to think that all memes would reach that fate would be incorrect, there may be some with elements that get wider acceptance or attention in the society as compared to another. The mode of communication then must be literally by 'the word of mouth'.
However, the societies changed, as they always do, but also the last two decades of internet explosion has transformed the way memes spread, not only in the society or culture of its origin but across the globe. So a typical 'meme' today gets a much better temporal experience as compared to two decades ago. One could say a 'meme' seem to have developed wings to travel faster in space and time. It is no wonder that businesses have started to make use of the internet memes to achieve their means.
To understand what are the ingredients of a Meme that could help it to become what we now call 'viral', there can be no definitive answers, as some of these are silly, some interesting, some hilarious, some mysterious, some even offensive or repulsive for most individuals who forward or share these with each other. While internet is abuzz with most popular internet memes of all times to most interesting lists, the only thing that may be common to all of these, is that it does touch an emotion in a human being which is provocative enough to share it with another one. Everyone who has a mailbox must have experienced receiving these meme's in the form of mail forwards or You tube links. From 'you wondering whether the lady is dancing on left or right foot' to the ghastly details of 'Whale hunting', from 'a kid dancing in 3D' to 'a chipmunk nodding', from 'Geyser impact of Coca Cola mixed with Mentos' to 'a boy speaking under anaesthesia' and 'planking' etc., they are of all kinds and genres. However, none of these may have been created to achieve any means other than having an entertaining impact or creating a shock value.
Now coming to the Business world and its utilization of internet, memes definitely work well for them. Arguably, theorists may like to define it as a different phenomenon rather than call it a meme. But underlying purpose of the business community may also be the same as the creator or sharer of any meme, which is to express a contextual cultural concept in a way that it entertains, amuses or shocks you. What really is shaping the trend now is not only the internet itself but the capacity of social media to transmit. It is the Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube which drive the 'meme' show, so to say.
There have been instances where such creations have gone viral within a day or two of its sharing on social media. At other times, it has been known to be viewed by targeted as well as untargeted audiences. The Sussex Council "Seat Belt while driving' as an example, was created only to promote seat belt use while driving in the town, however the number of views have since surpassed the original expectation of the creator or producer. Advertisers and Marketers after all strive for attention like this where sharing of their creation happens on its own as opposed to spending millions of dollars on television and internet based paid advertising.
One wonders, if every clever marketing gimmick that gathers quick attention from users can be qualified as a 'meme'. While there may no right or wrong answers, but the success on social media for a 'meme' has to be what can be called 'phenomenal'. Some of the internet meme's that went online in early history of internet is still watched with same amusement by younger generation and older alike. So, something that transcends time as well, while being contextual and keeps the ability to entertain, amuse or shock.
While it is more convenient and certainly a cost effective way for business to get the attention that they so much want from their targeted potential clients, to say that it is easier for businesses to create something that gets transmitted like a 'meme' while also serving their business interest may be a very daunting task.
Like the society itself, memes are also changing as there is so much visual context that is provided as compared to verbal context in the past. However, to say that visual has replaced all other forms of that basic idea that needs to be transmitted is incorrect. Some of the most popular and interesting ones that make into popular lists are actually words or phrases.
If human society has mastered the art of expressing and transmitting their ideas in forms others can relate to, internet has almost had a runaway impact on that art. There probably is a right time for an idea that creates the context, but the advantage today is that it can be beta tested across the globe to see if it has the potential. While many novices could strike gold as they capture a chance video or twist a sentence to get the attention, many creative experts may fail to have the same impact. Human behavior, despite Freud and Jung, and evolution despite Darwin and Lamarck is a subject that conceals more than it reveals. It definitely keeps the romance alive.