The Birth, Life and Death of the Franken-Meme: Part One

In Presentations by Marius Badenhorst



Viral marketing – a buzzword thrown about with so much enthusiasm you would believe it was the rediscovery of long lost fire. While many will set out to create marketing campaigns with an eye on ‘viral’, no one can say they’ve truly stolen Prometheus’ fire as the downside to the ‘meme’ phenomenon is that it is wildly unpredictable. This is where I draw the parallelisms between Frankenstein’s monster and the meme. See like the Mary Shelly monster, one can try to ‘go viral’ but unless that lightning strikes in just the right way, you’re going to be left with a mess of a corpse.

Coming from a pop culture background, I can take an educated guess as to what lightning rod will best work to create a meme but that is a topic by itself I’ll cover in a future post. Rather today’s hope is that we can look at the timeline and life of the meme with the hope that understanding the various stages can better prepare your viral marketing strategy to best harness every step; after all we know the ending of Frankenstein and the fate awaiting uncontrollable monsters.

We can't all be fans.

We can’t all be fans.

The Harlem Shake

Today we happen to be blessed with a living breathing monster meme in the form of what is known as the ‘Harlem Shake’ meme. Its recent birth less than two weeks ago paints a very clear picture of what we can expect from this meme’s natural lifespan as well as a document-able evolution of its infiltration into our own pop culture. The video consists of a group of people (usually in a dorm or office) whom are going about with their daily recreational activities; save for one guy in a motorcyclist’s helmet dancing to Trap music artist Baauer’s “Harlem Shuffle.” After a build up and the break of the song a sudden jump-cut reveals chaotic dancing from everyone in the room; it’s around 35 seconds long and sounds incredibly silly but with 44 million views in a week, it’s scary to think how this monster could’ve been harnessed for a marketing campaign and its effect on a brand.

2012’s runaway meme hit, Gangnam Style was similar in its birth; a ridiculous, over-the-top concept that has officially become the most viewed YouTube video ever. But how does it all begin.

Cool guys don’t look at explosions.


The birth of a meme comes in various forms. It could be accidental such as the recent Kai the Homefree Hitchhiker story or appear accidental (staged) like Evan Longoria’s Crazy Bare Hand Catch video. Either way it comes into this world, the first stages can never come about without an audience. The reason things go ‘viral’ is because the spread very much acts like a virus. I watch a video and share it with my 100 friends then maybe only 20 of my friends share it with their 100 friends; when you do the maths, that adds up to a lot of exposure very fast. One interesting thing about the birth of a meme however is that it’s not necessarily immediate; some pre-meme items exist for months even years before that initial lightning strike.

For Harlem Shake the birth came from a certain video blogger known by the alias Filthy Frank. He has a series of videos in which he dresses in a pink latex suit and dances to popular songs (Gangnam Style aptly being one of them). However, his videos have never really gone widely viral; that is until he decided to use ‘Harlem Shake.’ This is the birth of a meme.

This is the part where Dr. Frankenstein would be shouting, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Tomorrow we’ll discuss the important next stages in the birth, life and death of the Franken-Meme so join me then.

About the Author

Marius Badenhorst