Memetics: the DNA of word of mouth.

Memetics: the DNA of word of mouth.

We’ve all made suggestions, recommendations and referrals based on personal experience and advertising. It’s rewarding to watch as the best suggestions set off an avalanche of subsequent discussions and take on a life of their own.

Consciously or unconsciously, we imitate the behavior of others – making for some lively conversation. Imitation is crucial to the survival of our species. Today, a young science called memetics examines the principle of information transfer and imitation. The name comes from the words “memory” and “gene.” Memetics is an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer and embraces sociobiology, evolution psychology, epidemiology and informatics. It may explain why some word of mouth messages prevail while others do not.

What is a Meme?

A meme can be a trend, slogan, picture, melody, or catchphrase about a product or innovation that gets passed along to others. A meme, like a gene, is transferred from one generation to another, except a meme is transferred from one person – or group – to another.

Memes are in constant competition, so only the most attractive, attention-getting ideas take root. For a campaign, or branded idea to become successful, it needs a viral component to ensure its repetition and re-distribution. The viral component should be interesting and original. Since there are an almost unlimited number of memes in competition, only the most engaging and appealing become viral.

To create a meme with viral potential, we need to focus on creating ideas that are interesting, original, authentic and not perceived as blatantly self serving. Those with a human emotion work best: amusement, fear, helpfulness, enthusiasm, altruism, etc. Common human needs drive self interest and self interest is always at work on ideas that go viral.

Where ideas are hatched – seedings – has an enormous influence on their propagation. Server capacity, technical compatibility, community selection: all have an impact on the successful seeding of a meme/idea. Seedings can be web pages (blogs, forums, chat rooms, etc.) or contexts and environments (class reunions, cocktail parties, work breaks, etc).


The goal of a seeding is to get the attention of opinion leaders (either self directed, or externally driven) who willingly carry the contents of your idea. Opinion leaders exhibit several shared characteristics:

  • They are slightly above the group following them: slightly better educated, higher income, senior level job, higher product use. This is so we can respect and admire their opinion and also feel that they are somewhat like us. They share – at a somewhat higher level – our circumstances.
  • They tend to be opinion leaders in one area: finance, fashion, automotive, technology, travel.
  • They are early adopters in their area of expertise. So, their opinions are based on experience, insider information, or other sources that we don’t share.

Memes are hatched and seeded to reach opinion leaders who trade in the currency of influence. The Internet is a particularly effective breeding ground for viral. Communication lines are short and digital messages are shared in seconds. In social networks, ideas can be passed along easily on either a broad or highly concentrated basis.

Memetics helps to analyze human behavior when it comes to the exchange and absorption of ideas. It suggests why some respond and re-broadcast one idea but not another. And how we can predict the value of an idea. Memetic cognitions contribute to a better understanding of communication processes. Creating a meme that takes on a life of its own is the goal of every successful campaign. There is no other marketing instrument so powerful to revolutionize classical mass communication than this

This article is written from the personal perspective of Jule Hennig. The opinions and views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Miller Group Advertising.

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