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StumbleUpon Breaks It Down: Why The Dress Went Viral

in Industry Trends

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So many of us confuse virality with something that makes the headlines. Net neutrality is not viral. It was in the headlines because the FCC made a decision yesterday, and naturally, it is going to be written up across the internet. That does not a viral make. Virality is achieved when and only when something unexpected takes off.

We’re living in a post-meme world where we gather round major events, thirsty for something unexpected to emerge that we can remix and share with one another. Brands are on standby to hijack memes on the regular.

Saying that a Jimmy Fallon video is going to “go viral” is feeble-minded at best. Jimmy Fallon is in a post-meme world where we expect his videos to go viral. They are no longer a candidate for virality. As much as we loved the Saved By the Bell sketch, we expect nostalgia from Jimmy Fallon will go viral, which is the complete opposite of what defines virality — the unexpected.

In a post-meme world we expect virality, and so we’re seeing the phrase ‘pre-viral’ emerge, as if there is a way to accurately predict that a piece of content is about to take off. Because that always works.

Here’s why this dress went viral

I. Participatory: There were two sides to choose from — blue & black or white & gold, with each side earning their respective hashtags #blueandblack and #whiteandgold

Oh, yes. You can actually buy one of these. And he’s even offering a coupon code.

II. Shareable: It’s shareable because it tells us something about ourselves. Ego brings all the clicks to the yard.

III. Simplicity: Ease of entry is the key to unlocking viral success. A lack of complexity creates an opportunity to join in. You either see one color combo or you don’t.


IV. Strong Emotion: The sense of wonder. This is achieved at two levels:

a) Wonder about why you see one color combo versus another. We want to know *what* it says about ourselves based on the colors we see. So we share to validate.


b) Wonder about how and why this dress is getting the attention it is getting. A viral eating itself in the most meta of ways. This is a clear indicator we are living in a post-meme world.


We try to make sense of the absurdity of the dress’s virality by creating something to share in the hopes that others, too, feel the same way.


Other things to consider:

The dress achieved two types of success on the internet:

Viral Success — spreading because it achieved the four traits above

Memetic Success — people are participating in the irony of virality by remixing it in several ways in that it achieved meme status. Look for meme roundups tonight and into tomorrow with the following headline: The 25 Best Memes of the Dress that Broke the Internet and outlets with longer lead times will have people try on the dress and more content will come out that.

 Signs of Memetic Success

Remixing with other things that broke the internet today

The llamas + the dress


Remixing with other memes

Jennifer Lawrence’s 2014 Golden Globes dress #Lawrencing + the dress — so meta


In case you forgot:


Remixing as the act itself beyond the visual identifier

As I’ve said before, we share to belong. Remember, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Once the meme achieves this status, it no longer needs the original image to sustain its virality.

The meme has grown legs, and it can now walk on its own without its host cell — the original image that gave it life on the internet — the picture of the actual dress.

Choosing what color something is


Making a decision in general


Celebrity FOMO

Yes. They’re just like us. But more in the sense of they share to belong among their fans and to feed the content beast. The content beast of the 24/7 news cycle that rounds up celebrity reax (reactions). Celebs do it for the embeds. Remember ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Content begets more content.


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