I don’t usually write about memes, but when I do…ah, give it a break. The Most Interesting Man in the World (MIM) is one of the older Internet memes and is slowly losing steam. It debuted in 2007 and reached its peak in 2012 according to Google Trends. I feel that this meme has run its course and is a state of decline. I will demonstrate this with some recent examples of user generated MIM memes towards the end of this post. But first, let me show you the history of the meme and speculation as to how it spread.
This is one of the stronger memes as most don’t have as many mountain peaks in the data…they usually just have one. This can be explained by the commercial and radio ads marking the first peak and the user generated macro memes debuting around 2010. Since it is a strong meme, there are more peaks and it still has some bang left in it.
History of the MIM meme:
It all began with a Dos Equis campaign that blended vintage film stock with outrageous locations. Narrated by Will Lyman, known for his voice work at PBS, and starring Jonathan Goldsmith as the most interesting man, this beer campaign was well received critically and by the audience. Lyman narrated several hilarious statements and catchphrases including, “Every time he goes for a swim, dolphins appear. Alien abductors have asked him to probe them. Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number. His legend precedes him the way lightning precedes thunder. He is [thunder crash] the most interesting man in the world.”
We focused on a tanned, debonair, grey-bearded man in his late 60s or early 70s surrounded by women. He said, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis. Stay thirsty my friends.”
The ads first aired on the television in 2006 and they were uploaded on YouTube in 2007. Dos Equis also released a website called StayThirstyMyFriends.com where fans could upload videos of themselves performing toasts with a bottle of Dos Equis. The first macro meme appeared in 2010. Today, Quickmeme.com has registered nearly 100,000 user generated MIM memes creations.
The MIM has multiple memes including the original ads, Imitation videos, macros (see previous blog post), and others. I wanted to take a look at the pattern of the macros and how they evolved over time. The macro uses a picture of Goldsmith in a suit posing with a beer. The captions for the macro follow a similar template “I don’t always X, but when I do, I Y.” This is called a snowclone—a type of phrasal template in which certain words may be replaced with another to produce new variations with altered meanings. This is similar to the Match Game where celebrities had to fill in blanks to match contestants. Example: Stupid Sally was so stupid, she always drew a ___________. Being a snowclone allows the MIM meme to spread by being templatable so users can create their own versions to varying levels of success.
There are many theories on how memes spread on the Internet. Some are more successful than others. Some memes have only a brief shot of fame, while others, like MIM, have a longtail and last a lot longer. Richard Dawkins believed that memes spread biologically like genes. Perhaps even biologically like a virus. Benjamin Huh said, “Memes are connected less to biology and more to ideas that need to be reinterpreted.” There may not be a consensus of how they replicate, but it is important to look at why they spread. Users are interacting with the memes and creating their own. They are sharing their favorites with others and the “I don’t always X…” is entering their lexicon.
Amelia over at Konnessi gives a list of how memes grow, multiply, and eventually die out. She says that it begins with Genesis—the birth of the meme. It remains relatively small and passes along to early adopters. The second step is Math. This is the step that determines whether the meme will have a long tail life or a quick death. She says that it typically follows the exponential growth and connector theories spreading like Starbucks across the U.S. or the Black Death in Europe. The third step is Mass Hysteria where the meme is posted all over Facebook, trending on twitter, and often featured in the media. From there it experiences Imitation where the users begin to create original versions. Some face Irrelevance especially if they are temporally sensitive and the current event the meme is based on passes with time. The fifth step is Zombies where some memes never truly die and are resurrected years later…much like the MIM.
Francis Heylighen offers a more scientific approach to how memes are replicated in a four-stage process. It begins with Assimilation where the meme infects a new host where it enters the memory. The second step is Retention where the meme is remembered where the weaker memes fail. Expression is where the stronger memes are expressed by the host through language and behavior—this is recalled from the memory or retention. The final step is Transmission where an individual shares the meme through a variety of vehicles.
I am also drawn to Becky Lang’s musings on the death of a meme—which can be used to show what happens in the meme’s decline. It is a humorous piece, but very telling. Feeling Lamestream is when you see your favorite meme popping up on other people’s social media platforms. Scorn is when you suddenly hate that everyone loves your meme. Secretly Still Enjoying Meme it still makes you laugh but you are sick of other people liking it. Feeling Cynical About Meme Culture when you see CNN, journals, and media covering memes and explaining them to adults. Finding a New Meme is when you move on to the next best thing.
Theories for MIM:
When the first Macros for MIM began appearing, they felt just a little different than the ads that had preceded them. They were micro versions of the ad so their function was much different. The television and radio ads had assimilated into users memories and where so successful at retention that they were now being expressed and transmitted. The early 2010 MIM memes were the ones that were most respectful to the origin of the Dos Equis ad. They were humorous and mostly matched the tone of the ads. While mainly used in chatrooms and Facebook, these were about to become viral. This is where Amelia mentions going mainstream before all the imitations take over.
The examples below represent the early 2010s (green circle in Diagram 2):
In the middle range of the memes from late 2011-2012 (red circle in Diagram 2) were purely imitation and transmission from the user. They are reinterpreting the way in which provides meaning to themselves and expressing themselves. It only somewhat resembled the theme of the original ad, but more expressively showcased the feelings of the user. It is imitation, but not necessarily the best form of flattery. I don’t believe the MIM plays videogames. Since they were available on meme creators online, most were posted on Facebook and used in blogs. A lot were topical and used current events. Here are some examples:
The late memes in the cycle (orange circle) appear towards the downside of the MIM. It has reached market saturation. Anything funny has already been said and what we see is not related to the original meme at all. These are made to serve the self-interest of the user or for another reason such as marketing. A particular oddity is the Catholic Memes. The only element that remotely resembles the original MIM meme besides the picture is the snowclone: “I don’t always X…”
Could it be the lack of quality that drives the downward spike in the trending map? This certainly is happening with the MIM meme. It is no longer fresh. While the meme becomes oversaturated and overused, can it become an effective tool for marketing? It lessens in quality as it is overexposed, but the familiarity may help marketers who want to advertise to an audience that is familiar with memes. On the negative side, it might feel desperate and like Becky Lang, you might feel scorn for the meme since it has been overused and abused.
The MIM meme was a successful meme because it dutifully travelled from the host’s memetic memory storage and transmitted into the physical world in many different forms. It has been imitated, remediated, and permeated through the internet. While it no longer has anything to do with Dos Equis, the early MIM memes represented the main character relatively well. Through time, this faded and it simply became a meme that was focused on the snowclone.
As it has in the past, this meme may rise like a zombie and reach another peak in Google Trends. Though unlikely to match previous popularity levels, this is probably not the last of the Most Interesting Man in the World. Until we see him again, stay thirsty my friends.