What it is: First, let's explain the word "meme." The theoretical concept is actually quite complicated (trust us, the Wikipedia definition includes both Charles Darwin and John Locke), but at its simplest refers to any cultural information transmitted from one mind to another. Web citizens use the term in its loosest form meaning an "Internet phenomenon" where something -- an idea, art, person, joke, even advertising -- goes from unknown to extremely popular very quickly.
OK, like What? Things like the "Saturday Night Live" skit "Lazy Sunday"; the Kevin Federline video of him sitting in the studio singing to his "Popozao" song; Howard Dean's scream; and even the Ally McBeal dancing baby in the late '90s all qualify as Internet memes. In advertising, the Spongmonkeys, Subservient Chicken and "Whassup? " would make the cut.
How to create one: Purveyors of viral marketing and word-of-mouth buzz seem to think they can do it. But the essence of an Internet meme is that it's driven by popularity and consensus. That is, if consumers like it, they pass it along, and along and along. However, there is a kind of fabricated meme, a community-driven meme that throws out a challenge or suggestion to a group of like-minded people in an attempt to spread it across the Web. Some recent community-driven memes include Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble's attempt to get fellow bloggers to put the made-up word "brrreeeport" into their blogs or tags to test search engines. Another effort born on Flickr asked people to join Oral Pixation Day by posting (clean) photos of their mouths and what was in them April 1.
Who's using them? Likely anyone on the Web who uses e-mail or surfs communities. An Internet meme is every marketer's dream. Even Chevrolet's Tahoe ad contest, which brought gas-guzzling, anti-environmental ideas to the popular party, was a success. Still, chasing a meme dream is probably more frustrating than cost effective.