October 27, 2021  |  Expertise

StratFest Spotlight 2021: How to Get an Idea to Spread Like a Virus

Back to blog

Cultural anthropologist Joshua Baze has spent the past 25 years exploring the intersection of culture, commerce and technology.

He has spent a lot of time studying memes across social platforms to understand the strategies for their success – ultimately using them as a benchmark for understanding how to get an idea or concept to catch on (as is the ultimate goal of strategists and planners across agencies when they are in the trenches of creative concepting).

A meme he explains, “Is a self-propagating unit of cultural transmission. A well-known term, first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 as the ultimate expression of social science.”

And his interest in internet memes peaked as he tracked a Bernie Sanders Reddit meme – first launched on Jan. 15, 2020 – that saw 549,461,962 reshares and iterations over the course of a year. Baze calculated that this meme was in fact five times more infectious than the novel coronavirus.

But why?

Baze’s meticulous studying of the Bernie Sanders meme and others led him to the top seven qualities to engineer ideas for engagement:


  1. Ordinary People: People similar to us invite more participation than high profile influencers or celebrities. 86% of the most viewed videos on YouTube feature ordinary people (Think ALS Ice Bucket Challenge).
  2. Flawed Masculinity: Content that strays from traditional Western masculinity has more engagement (think Harry Styles 2021 Grammy performance).
  3. Humor: We want to laugh and make others laugh. Playfulness for the sake of playfulness is successful (think prolific explosion of TikTok dances).
  4. Simplicity: It’s always easier to repeat what is clearly understood and ownable to a brand or person (think Obama “Hope” campaign with iconic sketch coloring).
  5. Repetition: Creating content that makes it easier to imitate or reproduce invites intuitive and immediate engagement. (Think the iconic 1999 Budweiser “Wazzup” commercial that has seen repetition over two decades and across hundreds of brands and feature films).
  6. Whimsy: Unexpected eccentric content is more approachable than explicit pop culture references (think Geico commercials).
  7. Incompleteness: As humans, we cannot stand holes in our stories, especially in an era of fake news. Incompleteness serves as a textual hook for further conversation, creation and sharing. (Think unboxing trends that have overloaded our Instagram feeds).

As the sharing culture becomes more dynamic by the minute, we must not only take into consideration these seven qualities, but also think of ideas in future state, being sensitive and conscious of how content could replicate, in order to ensure our ideas translate positively and powerfully.


For more on Joshua Baze, visit : https://www.joshuabaze.com/

Get started here

Every organization has a powerful story to tell – one that impacts the bottom line. Come to Ideabar. Own your story.