A while ago, I posted here on a list of images that had gone viral – images that had properties that made people want to forward them on to others.
Here’s a good post with another load of them – including this one (perhaps the most mild mannered one of all of them, but my favourite):
An email with one of those images (and perhaps other messages beside them) is very likely to spread. If it’s a web-link, it can be an image with advertising placed beside it, thereby becoming a powerful bit of marketing.
Of course, this phenomenon has a darker side. The racist joke is generally a combination of a racial slur couched in a few sentances that some of the hearers will remember and relay to others. It’s likely to travel much faster than the unadorned message that “[insert chosen target group] all smell”
In the 1950s, the Situationist Guy Debord championed a form of artistic activism known as détournement – a form of artistic pranksterism in which capitalist imagery was appropriated, adapted and used against itself. The Adbusters site – one of the more established online art collectives – has some very good examples of images that have the politically subversive role of trashing brands. Take this example – digging at the way that fashion industries play in insecurities:
For me, it gets a bit too earnest and loses it’s impact when they feel the need to expand on the idea though:
Viral imagery potentially transforms communications. The right image can reach millions of eyeball without any production budget behind it. Brands can be trashed, opponents can be riduculed, and (often over-simplfied) ideas can be spread. It’s also a phenomenon that no serious campaigning user of social media can ignore.