Menus Subscribe Search

The World Wide Web

fiat-sloth

Can Memes Exist Outside of the Internet?

• July 11, 2014 • 6:00 AM

(Photo: YouTube)

A number of advertisers have tried to pull Internet Culture off the Web and put it onto your television screen.

Amid the novel intersection of ideas that is the Internet, there has emerged something called Internet Culture, an ill-defined, catchall phrase used to describe all the memes, GIFs, and other viral forms of random LOL humor that a growing number of largely anonymous people create, share, and comment on online. It’s a universe inhabited by the opposing forces of Scumbag Steve and Good Guy Greg. It’s every single rendition of the Harlem Shake on a long list of Harlem Shake renditions. It’s Nyan Cat, Grumpy Cat, and Keyboard Cat. It’s, you know, everything stupid and dumb yet amusing and wonderful about the Web that ends up on Reddit, BuzzFeed, and your Facebook wall.

Thus far, however, the majority of Internet Culture has yet to stray from its medium of birth. And why would it? Not all mediums are equipped to handle all forms of expression. Radio, for example, isn’t the best conduit for dance. Neither is TV for lengthy blocks of text. But as memes and GIFs continue to rise in popularity, it seems inevitable that more and more marketers, advertisers, and other media players will attempt to exploit them through a successful crossover. The question is: Does Internet Culture work offline?

Consider Fiat’s new ad campaign, titled “Endless Fun.” In a series of four television spots, we see images of bananas floating in outer space, men wearing horse masks, a guy twerking in a rabbit costume, the words “I CAN HAZ TURRBO?,” a sloth operating a pair of turntables, and, of course, lots of compact automobiles. Each commercial consists of several shorter looped videos, which are clearly meant to mimic GIFs. Every second is accompanied by the musical track “Biggie Bounce” by Diplo.

In an interview with Advertising Age, Chrysler’s Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois, who manages the Fiat brand in America, said the campaign was initially created for Fiat’s Tumblr page—a context in which both the ads’ form and content make sense. But because he liked them so much, he decided to put them on TV. “I thought they were crazy,” he said. “Crazy weird. Crazy fun. Crazy cheap to produce, as well. Maybe a new culture of commercial.”

Francois has called this move “an experiment,” and it is. If you happen to come across one of these spots after watching two hours of television on any given night, you’ll notice it’s a campaign unlike anything else out there. But pioneering aside, what does the intended audience think?

“This is like your dad putting on his Asia World Tour ’86 tee and taking you to Coachella,” reads one top-rated comment in response to news of Fiat’s latest ads. “This is the advertising equivalent of when your parents try to bump and grind at your high school dance. It’s mortifying,” Patrick George wrote at Jalopnik. In mid-June, someone posted one of Fiat’s ads to r/cringe, a Reddit community that focuses on videos “too embarrassing to watch all the way through,” where it received much ridicule. Sample comment: ” HAHA SEE WE CAN MEME TOO GUYS PLEASE BUY OUR CARS SINCE WE CAN MEME.”

While Fiat may have done almost everything technically correct—“almost” because the Deal With It meme involves someone putting sunglasses on, while Fiat shows someone taking sunglasses off—little about the campaign feels right. Perhaps that’s because they’re a company trying to sell something. Perhaps it’s that some of the material they appropriated from Internet Culture is a bit dated. But perhaps it’s also because the public isn’t quite ready to see the Web on TV.

Fiat isn’t alone in its willingness to experiment with mediums, either. Last November, Kmart released a couple of holiday-themed television commercials featuring characters who were “GIF-ing Out,” meaning they were trapped in a tight GIF-like loop of excitement over their recent purchases. The spots, with audio samples that sound like a very broken record, are downright difficult to watch. Many, many people who happened to see them used Twitter to express their disapproval, annoyance, and outrage.

Other examples exist, too. One Nissan commercial shows people planking in a rather clumsy fashion. Dramatic Chipmunk shows up in a spot for CarMax. Doge appears on a billboard. In general, these types of ads don’t seem to quite capture that spontaneous, interactive, freewheeling, collaborative, bottom-up spirit that makes the Internet pages where all of this stuff originates so potent. But that’s because they can’t.

All mediums have a bias. Each one appeals to our senses in a unique way. When Marshall McLuhan said that “the medium is the message,” this is what he was getting at.

Perhaps one day in the future the Internet will swallow all other media. Nothing that we see or hear will arrive offline or without an option to share on social media. Internet Culture will become The Culture. Until then, however, memes and GIFs on any other medium might very well remain kind of awkward.

Paul Hiebert
Paul Hiebert is the editor of Ballast, a Canadian-centric Website about culture and politics. Follow him on Twitter @hiebertpaul.

More From Paul Hiebert

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts


July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


July 21 • 2:00 PM

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

Illinois leads the country in group psychotherapy sessions in Medicare, and some top billers aren’t mental health specialists. The state’s Medicaid program has cracked down, but federal officials have not.



July 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, MacArthur Genius?

Noah Davis talks to Yoky Matsuoka about youth tennis, wanting to be an airhead, and what it’s like to win a Genius Grant.


July 21 • 11:23 AM

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?


July 21 • 10:00 AM

How Small-D Democratic Should Our Political Parties Be?

We need to decide how primaries should work in this country before they get completely out of hand and the voters are left out entirely.


July 21 • 8:00 AM

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don’t actually walk like primates at all.


July 21 • 6:00 AM

Sequenced in the U.S.A.: A Desperate Town Hands Over Its DNA

The new American economy in three tablespoons of blood, a Walmart gift card, and a former mill town’s DNA.


July 21 • 5:00 AM

Celebrating Independence: Scenes From 59 Days Around the World

While national identities are often used to separate people, a husband-and-wife Facebook photography project aims to build connections.


July 21 • 4:00 AM

Be a Better Person: Take a Walk in the Park

New research from France finds strangers are more helpful if they’ve just strolled through a natural environment.



July 18 • 4:00 PM

The Litany of Problems With the Pentagon’s Effort to Recover MIAs

A draft inspector general report found that the mission lacks basic metrics for how to do the job—and when to end it.


July 18 • 2:00 PM

Sure, the Jobs Are Back, but We Need a Lot More

We’re back to where we were before the 2008 recession, but there are now 12 million more people in the United States.


July 18 • 12:00 PM

What Are the Benefits of Government-Funded Research?

Congress wants to know.


July 18 • 10:31 AM

Why Didn’t California’s Handheld Phone Ban Reduce Motor Accidents?

Are handheld cell phones as dangerous as they have been made out to be?


July 18 • 10:00 AM

The Upside of Economic Downturns: Better Childhood Health

For children, the benefits of being born in tough times can outweigh the costs.


July 18 • 9:48 AM

What Tech Talent Shortage? Microsoft Trims 18,000 Employees From Payroll

Like manufacturing before it, the Innovation Economy has reached a turning point, with jobs moving to places where labor is cheaper.


July 18 • 8:00 AM

The Academic of Comic Books

Kim O’Connor talks to Hillary Chute about comics as objects of criticism, the role of female cartoonists, and the art world’s evolving relationship with the form.


July 18 • 6:00 AM

The Supreme Court’s ‘Hobby Lobby’ Ruling Isn’t a Women’s Health Issue

It’s a private health issue. And it affects us all.


July 18 • 4:00 AM

‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ Comes Easier to the Danes

New research finds the closer a nation is to the genetic make-up of Denmark, the happier its citizens are.


July 17 • 4:00 PM

A Way for Feminism to Overcome Its ‘Class Problem’

A growing body of research indicates that there are few other interventions that improve the economic prospects and work-life balance of women workers as much as unions do.


July 17 • 2:00 PM

How a Fanny Pack Mix-Up Unraveled a Massive Medicare Fraud Scheme

Two secretaries in a doctor’s office have pleaded guilty and a pharmacy owner faces charges in a scam that Medicare allowed to thrive for more than two years.


July 17 • 12:00 PM

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Makes a Great Argument for Sex

We could all learn a thing or two from our close cousin, the bonobo.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don't actually walk like primates at all.

Why Didn’t California’s Handheld Phone Ban Reduce Motor Accidents?

Are handheld cell phones as dangerous as they have been made out to be?

The Upside of Economic Downturns: Better Childhood Health

For children, the benefits of being born in tough times can outweigh the costs.

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.