Search this site!
     by FreeFind

Meme Update #33

In this Issue:
Viral Marketing
Dollar Bill Virus
Virus Warning!
Scientology copyright ruling appealed to Supreme Court
Book of the Week: Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff

Viral Marketing

Four years ago, in my book Virus of the Mind, I coined the term “profit virus” and predicted that self-replicating businesses would become a bigger and bigger factor in world commerce. Now the term “viral marketing” has become mainstream and has come to mean almost what I intended. It refers to the engineering of word-of-mouth referrals, one form of self-replication although not the only possible one. Engineering word-of-mouth has a time-honored tradition dating back to the beginnings of Christianity:

[John 3:16] For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Whether intentionally or not, the early Christians built in a word-of-mouth incentive into their religion. Christians believe that anyone who believes in Jesus will be Saved, and they also believe that it is their duty to do what they can to Save their fellow man. Thus were formed the beginnings of viral marketing, appealing to our good nature and also our psychological desire to share important news with those who haven’t yet heard it. (As if to illustrate this tendency, the Gospel is sometimes referred to as “Good News.” There’s even an updated-language version of the Bible called the “Good News Bible.”)

Religions were intertwined with government and colonization for centuries. But with the advent of the Western free market came the freedom to experiment with different kinds of companies. Some of these experiments hit upon the idea of self-replication. In only the last few decades, multi-level businesses have grown from nothing to a multi-billion-dollar force in economics. Why? Because as the science of memetics predicts, self-replication is the source of cultural change. If a business can harness it, it has latched onto a force even more effective than broadcast television (and far less expensive). When combined with new communication technologies such as the Internet, these viral companies are formidable indeed.

The profits are so quick and easy for the founders of these companies that governments are quick to believe they are scams. They are called pyramid schemes and hypocritical claims are leveled at their founders, who sometimes spend time in prison for their efforts. For the record, let me debunk some of the common claims made against multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) by government and other “watchdog” agencies. Now I’m not debunking claims that some of them are scams, because some of them are. But the concept in general really works.

The first anti-MLM claim is usually “Only the people at the top make money.” In a scam, of course, this may well be true. In a traditional business it’s even more true! When was the last time you heard of someone getting rich flipping burgers? But in a true MLM anyone who can be successful at the key skill required can succeed in making money. The key skill is not sales ability—it is the ability to replicate the plan to the people you enroll, and teach them to do the same. It’s about retaining “copying fidelity” all the way down the line.

The other false claim leveled against MLMs is “it’s mathematically impossible.” They point out that infinite doubling is impossible because you soon run out of people. While that statement is certainly true on its face, it is not applicable in practice. Most MLMs do not stop because they have run out of people to sell to. Even Grandpa Amway, still cash-rich and booming after all these years, has not run out of people. These things reach an equilibrium where the number of people dropping out is equal to the number coming in. As long as there are people coming in below you—and there really is one born every minute—it is the quality of your ability to replicate the Plan that will determine your success.

While it may seem unfair that the only people who get rich are those with the talent and skill to replicate the plan and pass that skill down, think about the chances for getting rich in a traditional business. If anything, someone coming into an established MLM has at least a chance to make it big. What do you think the chances are for someone who joins General Motors at the lowest level?

The Internet is a memetic Petrie dish. Business concepts can be launched on a large scale so much cheaper and easier than before that the evolution of profit viruses has already reached an exciting pitch. Here are some examples of viral Internet businesses. By the way, if you decide to join any of these and name me as a referral, all my proceeds will go toward memetic research.

Viral marketing is flourishing on the Internet both because of the low barriers to entry and because of the ease with which so many people can be reached at little or no cost. For the entrepreneurs among you, this really could be the ground floor.

Dollar Bill Virus

[Meme Update subscriber Jaek Smith reports the following]

I was flipping through the my wallet to check my current funds when I noticed some green writing on a dollar bill. Though writing on a dollar bill is not uncommon, I thought you'd get a kick out of this one:

The writing starts on the top edge of the dollar and continues on the bottom edge. The words are as follows: "Anyone who receives this bill will be blessed with lots of money if you write this on ten one dollar bills"

Thus we have a dollar-bill virus!

And the scary thing is, though email and other people based viruses generally don't pass through me (i.e. I don't pass them on), since this is a dollar bill, in general I will still use the dollar to buy something. So I guess this makes me a "carrier" - scary thought ;^)

Anyway, thought you might get a kick out of that.

Virus Warning!

[Thanks to Meme Update subscriber Mike Halbfish for this]

You might be getting an e-mail containing a virus from someone at sometime in the future. They might even send it in an e-mail warning you about a virus or an imaginary virus. This might be a hoax or this might be real. Or, perhaps you don't yet realize that you've already received the virus. If you don't get the virus you might be shunned by society because it might mean that you're forgotten or not considered worthy of the virus and this is a sign of the value that society places on you.

Scientology copyright ruling appealed to Supreme Court

Keith Henson, ordered to pay what is reportedly the largest punitive damages in the history of the Copyright Act, has appealed the memetically interesting Church of Scientology's award of $75,000 plus an equal amount for legal fees to the Supreme Court. His appeal makes interesting reading:

Book of the Week: Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff

The author of “Media Virus” had a rude awakening, and he’s come back with a vengeance.

After publishing his hugely successful book “Media Virus,” Douglas Rushkoff became the favorite son of advertising agencies and business strategists around the world. Companies battled for his time and flew him around the world for the privilege of paying him to tell them what to do next in the battle for control of consumers’ minds. Rushkoff watched with dismay as friends and colleagues, believing that he had sold out to the system, published angry articles denouncing the New York University professor of journalism.

Rushkoff admits he was tempted by the serpent, though, and as recompense to his loyal public has turned the tables on The Man by publishing his new book “Coercion: Why We Listen to What They Say.”

“Coercion” starts out, in fact, with a powerful tale of Rushkoff’s flirtation with the Dark Side and subsequent repentance. To make up for the years he spent consulting for the enemy, he now sets out to reveal their very secrets in an effort to give us ammunition to protect ourselves. From start to finish, “Coercion” is filled with jewels. What tactics does the 19-year-old salesgirl at The Gap use that are right out of the CIA interrogation manual? How do shopping-mall designers manipulate your sense of identity to induce you to buy more and more? What new and frightening tactics are we beginning to see on the once pure and commercial-free Internet?

As always, Rushkoff’s new book is easy to read and to the point, filled with interesting data and held together by the thread of a steel-trap mind. It is, as the author intended, good ammo in fighting the good fight.

On sale for 30% off at the Memetics Bookstore. Go to

All the best memes,


This is Richard Brodie's Meme Update Newsletter. To subscribe/unsubscribe, with "subscribe" or "unsubscribe" (no quotes) in the message body. This is an automated list server, so you must send ONLY those words exactly as written. If you're having trouble, and I'll help.

Meme Central has links to lots of interesting things having to do with self-replicating ideas:

You can order books mentioned here and others through the Memetics Bookstore at

My book VIRUS OF THE MIND is now in its sixth printing! You can read the first chapter on line at

Spread the meme! Forward this copy of Meme Update to others who need to know about memes!