Collaboration

The viral meme -- popularity by committee

The popular Internet meme, "Rick roll" is more than just an interesting moment in Internet history; it is potentially a sign of things to come, as it is capable of touching business in a whole new way.

It is a phenomenon that we never saw coming. The Internet has the power to reach out and touch us in unique and unexpected ways. And it has a business impact that we can't afford to ignore.

Back in January, a group calling themselves Anonymous began what has become an amazing fight against the "Church" of Scientology, picketing their "orgs" and disseminating information across the Internet at breakneck speed. Along the way, and probably quite accidentally, they gave birth to the "Rick roll" playing Rick Astley's 1987 song "Never Gonna Give You Up" at times and places where it was least expected. But this was just the real-life variation on an already established Internet theme. It had already become quite common to misdirect people on the Web. Clicking on links in celebrity gossip could easily get you Rick rolled. And on April 1, 2008, the meme went global. YouTube linked every one of its Featured Videos to the song and many others joined in.

But what is less evident is the actual fiscal impact that the rejuvenation of the 21-year-old song is having.

From Reuters:

The movement has spurred digital sales for the track, which has sold at least 1,000 downloads per week since late December and peaked with 2,500 sales the week of March 9.

On April Fools' Day, YouTube RickRolled users by linking to the video on all of its home-page features. Other online outlets like Sports Illustrated and Live Journal followed suit. Altogether, the video was viewed 6.6 million times in one day, generating 43,000 user comments and boosting the track to No. 77 at Amazon's download store.

Sony BMG has issued "Never Gonna Give You Up" as a ringtone, and is mulling another greatest-hits release for 2008 in the United Kingdom. Three of Astley's albums -- his debut, "Whenever You Need Somebody"; "Greatest Hits"; and "Platinum & Gold Collection" -- remain in print in the United States via Sony BMG's RCA/Legacy label.

But Astley himself is not planning to cash in on the rebirth of the song.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“I don’t really know whether I want to be doing that,” he said. “ I’m not being an ageist, but it’s almost a young person’s thing, that.”

“I think the artist themselves trying to remix it is almost a bit sad,” he said. “No, I’m too old for that.” Astley, who will be touring the U.K. in May with a group of other ’80’s acts, including Bananarama, and Nick Heyward, Heaven 17, Paul Young and ABC, sums up his thoughts on his unexpected virtual fame with characteristic good humor: “Listen, I just think it’s bizarre and funny. My main consideration is that my daughter doesn’t get embarrassed about it.”

The take-away from this whole thing is to recognize the power of the Internet. Once something has been recorded for posterity, it is available to play with in ways that many of us don't appreciate until something like this comes along. Even with the proof in front of us, it is easy to be somewhat incredulous.

So what are your thoughts? Is it possible to plan something like this? Or is it truly in the hands of the people who spread it? Is it possible for a business to tap into the power of the Internet intentionally? Or is it really just random chance? And is there, heaven forbid, something about yourself out in digital wonderland that you hope never finds the light of day?

Note to readers: I resisted the urge to Rick roll you. The links in this post are safe.
19 comments
Jaqui
Jaqui

I wouldn't know, if Iget redirected I leave. and since I don't have any multimedia plugins installed, I never hear any of the garbage.

FateJHedgehog
FateJHedgehog

I once had a theory about the Internet becoming a useful, serious psychoanalytical tool. Forget hypnosis. Forget regressive treatments. Forget Rorschach tests. It actively taps into an unintentional collective subconscious that most people could have only postulated on in retrospect.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As usual with pop culture topics, I've never encountered this annoyance and can't even remember the song. I've found I rarely retransmit most web media others describe as 'viral', and I'm often never even exposed to it (as in this case).

Tig2
Tig2

Have you been rick rolled? A year ago that question would have made no sense to most of us. Today, we not only can answer it, but may have personally fallen victim to it. I know I have. Writing this story and finding you valid links that were not themselves a link to a rick roll was a more difficult task than it needed to be. And You Tube users around the globe discovered just how prevalent the rick roll could be when You Tube linked all of its Featured videos to the 1987 pop hit on April first. But is there a lesson for business here? Certainly, one thing we have learned is that information is forever. Once something hits the digital knowledge pool, it is there forever and may come back at any time. So what are your thoughts on this? Join the discussion but please, no rick rolls! Edited for clarity

jjness
jjness

Not sure if it was mentioned yet, but the Rick Roll was not started by Anonymous. It was originally the duck roll on 4chan.

Tig2
Tig2

I found references for "duck roll" but they were fairly oblique. I couldn't find anything solid. Anonymous was outed as Rick Rolling at a Scientology protest by the LA Times so I figured that it might have started there. The other one that I found was "Bel Air" to reference a re-work of a Will Smith song used for Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I don't know the origin of that one. Thanks for the heads up!

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

So is propaganda and other forms of manipulation.

Bizzo
Bizzo

Viral memes have been going for years, it's just the internet that's made them global. Before the internet there was TV/Radio advertising, all having their own colourful pictures (maybe not radio) and jingles, and all having their own slogans. How many times has someone mentioned a product, and it's reminded you of a particular tune, slogan, or advert? Before then it was all printed media, newspapers, posters etc, again, all being on-brand with the colours and styles and slogans. Think of comedians, with their catchphrases. I remember being at school and some programme was on the previous night, I'd missed it for some reason. All the other kids had watched it, had picked up on the catchphrase and were using it constantly. If you didn't know the catchphrase, you weren't "cool". Maybe that's it. The reason why viral memes work is that we're all sheep, or we feel the need to fit in within our social group. The word meme comes from the greek mimesis, meaning to imitate. One person does one thing, and everyone copies and follows because they don't want to be uncool?

Tig2
Tig2

I guess that I tend to discount advertising because a business buys air for the specific purpose of getting a specific idea out. To me, the difference is that there is no such control of a meme. But a meme does have the same power as advertising. What would be the impact of a negative meme? Something that is hateful of a product or company? Could a negative even become a meme?

JamesRL
JamesRL

(from a 15 year member of alt.folklore.urban) is that negative meme/legends play into our preconceptions, and frankly our fears. Urban legends often have a moral lesson - be promiscuous and catch aids from a stranger (lipstick on the mirror version 1) or get your kidney taken out (version 2) Many of these memes are similar - we pass them along because we are afraid and pass along our fears. Fear is an effective motivator. James

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Nasty rumors spread about people or companies. Some "urban legends" that have done just this. 1)The fact that everyone "knows" that bubblyum bubblegum contains spider eggs. 2)Mariah Carey said that she wished she could be as thin as the starving people in Africa. 3)That Nestle engaged in a slick ad campaign that caused massive malnutrition in Africa. et cetera et cetera.

Bizzo
Bizzo

watching hampster dance on TV, I was disturbed by a ring ring ring ring ring ring ring, (on my) bananaphone. I answered it. It was a rival pizza delivery service, he said "All your (pizza) base are belong to us", I said, "O RLY?" and then they hung up, I thought "It's a trap!". As the dancing baby came on TV, I decided that that was enough dancing for the night and attempted to create a new pizza topping. Peanut Butter Jelly? Time to rethink methinks. After an hour or so I was getting tired, I already made Badger, Badger, Badger, Mushroom, Mushroom pizzas and frankly was getting bored and hungry, even though I'd wolfed down a Rick Roll. Suddenly, I hear this scream, "Leeeeeeeroooooooyyyyy Jennnnnkkkiiiiiinnnsssssss!!!" and some guy comes running through the house, "WOW!" I thought. I was so scared I nearly wet myself, should go for a Leek(spin). Anyway, I sat down in from of my pc and logged on to TR to see what flames I could start, and thought someone was watching me, it was ceiling cat, a deftly thrown slipper soon sorted him out. I get back to trolling TR and hear ROFLROFLROFLROFL, it was those darn LOLcats flying ROFLCopters. I ASCIId them to leave me alone, fortunately I CAN HAD SPARE CHEEZBURGER 2 OFFR THM. Back to TR. Ah yes, the lovely Tig had a new posting, had a look, and it was about "The viral meme- popularity by committee". Viral memes? Never heard of them. :D

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As I noted below, I'm way out of touch. I imagine Biz' post is a real hoot, but I don't get anything after hampster dance.

seanferd
seanferd

I believe Peanut Butter Jelly time was a little dancing banana screensaver from Everybody Loves Raymond. There is a site where the animation can be found, but I don't have the address handy. All Your Base Are Belong To Us is from the Sega game Zero Wing, with, yes, a very bad Engrish tlansration. Another classic line from this game is, "Somebody set us up the bomb!", meaning that someone planted a bomb aboard the ship. It really is a riot to see/ hear/ read. The gaming community doctored tons of photos to contain the AYBABTU phrase, which were finally compiled into a video with music from the game.

Bizzo
Bizzo

Hampster dance - obviously dancing hampsters dancing to a really annoying track Bananaphone - cartoon banana shaped phone (or was it a phone shaped banana?)with the song ring (x7) bananaphone! All your base are belong to us - some console game from the 80's I think with some odd Engrish translations O RLY? - The "O RLY?" Owl. I think it was just a funny picture of an owl with the phrase "O RLY?" on it. Maybe from LOLcats? "It's a trap!" - That general "what's his name" from star wars Dancing baby - very old one of a 3d cgi dancing baby Peanut Butter Jelly Time - Can't remember where this one came from, but I'm sure it had an annoying tune Badger, Badger, Badger - Another song one, just repeat the words "Badger, Mushroom, Snake" numerous times to a cartoon of a dancing badger Rick Roll - Tig explained that one "Leroy Jenkins!" - Well known for for causing the (virtual) death of a clan in World of Warcraft. Will probably be on youtube, I actually found this one hilarious Leekspin - Japanese cartoon, of a girl singing and spinning a leek, seriously! Ceiling Cat - Cutesy picture of a cat looking through a hole in the ceiling, probably from http://lolcats.com/ or http://icanhascheezburger.com/ they're very much the same ROFLROFLROFL - The noise a ROFLCOPTER makes, obviously LOLcats - See ceiling cat, above ROFLCOPTER - ASCII cartoon of a helicopter, I think it was a flash game I CAN HAD SPARE CHEEZBURGER 2 OFFR THM - an attempt at LOLcat/icanhascheezburger speak, see Ceiling cat, above I would try and find links, but almost all of them are blocked here (I'm at work, shhh!) I think that's it. Make notes, I'll be asking questions later!

GSG
GSG

Either you are brilliant, or insane and you need some serious meds. Either way, this was seriously funny.

brian.mills
brian.mills

That post made my Monday. Thank you.

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