You can say something online, and chances are no one will pay attention. Condense your point down to a sentence or two, caption it over an image and *BAM* it goes viral.
This goes for profound timeless sayings, funny ironies, quotes from respected figures in antiquity, lyrics to songs and so much more.
It makes sense though. You know the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words”. It takes a lot longer and so much more brain power to read a single sentence and remember what you’d read than it does to glance at an image for even a fraction of a second and have an emotional reaction to it.
It sticks. That added sensory input of having a pretty or intriguing picture to look at while reading the message creates an association and helps lock it into your memory banks.
An aside to all this is animated .GIFs. I maintain they are the crème de la crème of the internet world. They are the perfect mix of videos and images.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is a thousand frames of animation with an audio track worth?
The problem with using videos for viral marketing is that you come up against a limitation in the attention span of your target audience.
People rarely click links to videos. You have to go out of your way to decide to click it, it often opens in a new tab or window, you have to stop everything you’re doing and focus for a minute or two on just one thing. People simply aren’t going to do that very often when multitasking and scrolling through a gigantic endless feed of content.
I’ve noticed these are especially popular when quoting lyrics of a song you find particularly enjoyable or profound. You can write the quote, chances are people just won’t care, won’t even look at it. You can post the quote and link it to the video, no one will click on it. Now, caption the quote over a picture of the singer, and you start getting people’s attention. BUT, caption the image over a few animated frames of the singer on stage singing those lyrics, and it explodes in popularity.
It’s the exact right combination of fitting into the viewers attention span and associating your message with a moving visual image. GIFs load almost immediately, require no external link, they’re pretty and colorful and moving the moment you scroll past them, and especially in the case I just mentioned, they have the added advantage of being able to see the singer’s face actually mouthing the words while you read them.
When the average human sees another human’s face (especially the familiar face of someone they love and respect) a burst of oxytocin and other mammalian bonding hormones goes off in their system and they immediately begin to empathize with whatever message the person who created it is trying to get across.
Okay, but that was just a tangent. In lieu of being able to animate, a captioned image macro is the next best thing.
Anyway, back to bathrooms.
I’m also quite interested in what I call “pre-internet memes”. I frequently talk about how almost all of the content on the internet has been “lifted off of men’s room walls“. Not just bathroom stalls either, classroom desks, textbooks, public bulletin boards, picnic tables, and wherever the hell else people have been writing those things since the dawn of time.
One of my most often cited examples is LOLcats. They didn’t call them LOLcats back then, but people have been taking photographs of cats in hilarious positions and writing captions on them for oh about as long as cameras have existed. The earliest documented example is British portrait photographer Harry Pointer, who in the 1870s created a “carte de visite” series featuring cats posed in various situations. To these he usually added amusing text intended to further enhance their appeal.
Another example I often cite is the story of how NASA spent millions of dollars developing an ink pen that would work in zero gravity and freezing cold temperatures, whereas the Soviets simply used a pencil. I’ve always associated that story with some of the earliest things I’d ever found online, but when reading an article about why this story is a horribly misguided piece of misinformation, someone in the comments section claimed they remember seeing this exact story scribbled on the inside cover of one of their textbooks back in the early 70s.
Most of these memes are timeless and their origins are untraceable. The only real exceptions I can think of are memes that reference current events and/or technology that has only come into existence since the advent of the internet. It’s possible that some of those may in fact have originated online.
What I thought would be neat is to take what we’ve learned by putting these memes online and apply them back to their original form: e.g. image macros on bathroom walls.
Next time you’re sitting on the Porcelain Throne doing your business and you feel the need to carve or sharpie some funny or thought-provoking message, take the extra time to scratch or sketch an image of a cat, or a beautiful nature scene or the speaker’s face if it’s a quote into the wall, leaving room to carve out your message in ALL CAPS size 10 bold and outlined IMPACT font….