Adverts = memes, usually bad ones

We saw in the section on
social structures how most of the things we take for granted are merely sets of memes, specifically sets of memes that fought off their competitors. Political systems compete for our attention, as do religions, songs, fashions, brands and so on, and it is no exaggeration to say that modern society has been built by the most persuasive memes.

The persuasive power of memes is all-important: capitalism relies on convincing consumers to turn their money into goods, democracies hand power to the most attractive liar; and successful organisations rely on convincing people (staff, suppliers etc) to do things in a different way.

So let’s look at persuasion in capitalism. It’s amusing to look back at the wonderfully naive television adverts from the 1950s and 1960s: if you don’t remember them, imagine a man in a suit holding up a can of cat food, saying ‘Buy Kittychow today, it’s delicious!’. The simplest adverts of today, complex pieces of psychological manipulation in comparison, are another example of memetic evolution in action. Just as flowers evolved scent and bright colours to attract pollinators, so adverts and brands have evolved to attract your attention and infest your brain.

The reasons why memes should be attractive to marketing men are obvious: they are infectious, they are transmitted via a variety of media, they can be passed on both vertically (e.g. parent to child) or horizontally (peer to peer), and if they are accepted they can modify conscious and unconscious behaviour. Memes give the marketing profession what they’ve always wanted, a form of mind control.

Hey, why don’t we build a viral advert and conquer the world!!!! It’s not that easy, as evidenced by the dreadful examples of advertising that we are constantly bombarded with.


A brand is nothing more than a memeplex that carries a set of associations around a product. As such, it will be subject to evolution - accidental or intentional - and influence from the memes around it.

A carelessly-run brand will drift or die, while a clever brand director can use an understanding of memetics to promote the copy fidelity of the memeplex (i.e. the longevity of the brand) and help spread its awareness in the mind of the intended targets.

We also look at the relevance of ‘tipping points’ in marketing and how you can tailor your memetic messages for particular market segments.

In this category we have a series of articles on how mass advertising is a result of a failure to understand memetics, how it is sometimes counter-productive, and how, in particular, companies in the financial services sector are getting it wrong. We end with some suggestions on how to build a better advert.',
Missing the obvious