One of the most interesting things I learned from my study of urban legends is the concept of communal recreation. In the urban legend post I said this:
Each person in this recreative chain attempts to fit the story into their existing mental frameworks and in doing so they apply a bit of themselves, of their own values and perspectives, altering the story and retelling their version.
And for viral and social marketers, this idea should be fundamental to everything we do. The campaigns we build and the brands we manage must become platforms for users to express themselves with, each person that touches our messages should be recreating them, “applying a bit of themselves, of their own values and perspectives.”
Your brand must be a box of crayons, not just a rubber stamp. The examples of successful viral and social media marketing efforts (and non-marketing memes) using this strategy are numerous, including: Elf Yourself, Simpsonize Me, I Can Has Cheezburger, and The South Park Facebook App, just to name a few off the top of my head.
Personally I’ve developed the Geekflirt Lolcat Maker, and I’ve been involved in the pitching and development of a few other of these kinds of box-of-crayons type campaigns. I’d also love to hear any other examples you might know of.
Update: I forgot that I’d written about this for Jonathan Bailey’s Plagiarism Today.