Skip to main content

Top Memes of 2012 – And What We Can Learn From Them

People in the business of figuring out why some content goes viral on the Internet are still trying to figure out what goes viral on the Internet. Let's face it: no one has any clue – unless it's a 15-second video of a kitten attacking a dolphin. If someone told you last year that the video of a Korean techno-rap song would be the biggest Internet hit since "David after Dentist," you would have scoffed at that person, and yet here we are living in the shadow of Gangnam Style.

So while we ponder what sort of content might achieve viral lift in 2013, let's take a quick look back at the viral memes of 2012. It will do very little to help us anticipate or generate future viral content, but it will be fun and we can pretend like it's research.

Here's a quick and unofficial rundown of the best of the social Internet's viral memes of 2012:

Image Title1

1. Gangnam Style

What can be said about Korean pop star Psy and his crazy dancing that hasn't been said already? With over 847 million views, Psy's Gangnam Style became the most watched video in the history of YouTube (link bonus: AMA performance with MC Hammer), beating out #2 – Justin Beiber's "Baby," which is currently stuck at a mere 807.5 million on YouTube.

One distinction we can draw from these two mega-click hits is the difference between a small audience with a feverish devotion and a broad audience with a passing interest. Sure, many of the Gangnam clicks come from devoted K-pop fans, but it also appears to have a much broader appeal, having graduated from YouTube hit to Christmas carol, apparently.

Image Title2

2. Fake Sandy Photos

This is the kind of viral stuff that makes good people hate the Internet for good reason. Step one) Tragedy. Step two) Photoshop. Step three) Profit?

It is difficult to understand why someone would manipulate a screenshot from the disaster movie "Day After Tomorrow" of giant waves crashing against the Statue of Liberty to make it seem real, other than to watch with glee as the lie go viral. And maybe that's the lesson to take from this viral hit of 2012: increase the virility of your content by lying your pants off so people freak out. There is a downside to this.

Image Title3

3. Binders Full of Women

As soon as the phrase "binders full of women" rolled out of Mitt Romney's mouth in the second presidential debate, there was a Tumblr, a Facebook page, and widespread Internet hilarity galore. It seemed to crystalize in the minds of many Americans the disconnect between Mr. Romney and the ladypeople, which resulted in an historic gender gap in the voting totals with the president winning by 12 percent among women.

The lesson here is that on the Internet, the truth sells. And whether it goes viral in a positive way or, as in the case of "binders full of women," in an ironic way, the Internet will reward truth with the power of Photoshop.

Image Title4

4. Ridiculously Photogenic Guy

Where did this meme come from? Pinterest? Groupon? Some other corner of the lady-Internet? (Actually, Flickr.) At some point guys were told that this guy was a "thing," and they were like, "That guy?"

The lesson here is that people like stuff, and if your marketing staff isn't representative of your audience's demographics, you might be missing out on things your audience is into and you just had no idea, like this guy. Who knew?

Recommended for you

Image Title5

5. Texts from Hillary

A couple of photos of a relaxed Hillary Clinton thumb-typing on her Blackberry and a Tumblr account was all a couple of smart-asses needed to sweep the Internet by storm back in April.

In one week, the meme's creators made 32 Tumblr posts that resulted in 83,000 shares on Facebook, 8,400 Twitter followers, 45,000+ Tumblr followers, news stories from around the world, and a text from Secretary Clinton herself.

The lesson here is that the Internet rewards the lulz with love.

Image Title6

6. McKayla Maroney Is Not Amused

OK, so remember the Olympics were this year? Well, there was this one time when McKayla Maroney got a silver medal and she stood on the medal platform clearly not impressed. Mix that not-impressedness with a Tumblr and *boom* Internet cute bomb that ends with the president "doing the McKayla."

Why is this a "thing"? Maybe because the image captured McKayla's extremely high expectations for herself in a way that allowed Tumblr to exploit it for the lulz. The lesson to apply here is less about how to recapture the viral magic of this meme and instead simply embrace McKayla's high standards for our work.

Image Title7

7. Kony 2012

Yes, Kony 2012 was this year. It's been a long year.

Image Title8

8. NYPD Cop & Homeless Guy

An "Arizona tourist" snapped this so-real-that-it-couldn't-be-set-up photo of a NYC cop giving a barefoot homeless guy a pair of boots during the recent cold temperatures. The "tourist" then emailed the photo to the NYPD, which then posted it onto their Facebook page, where it has racked up 103,000+ shares and 360,000+ likes on its way to going viral.

Of course, it's real. Why even think that it's totally set up as a cheap PR stunt? Who would even think of a thing like that? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Image Title9

9. BuzzFeed Lists

Remember when lists had to be 10 things long? We can't neither. Just ask these 33 dogs and cats who just don't know anymore.

Recommended Articles