How ‘unnecessary journeys’ made Teresa Mannion go viral

RTÉ broadcaster’s rain-drenched Storm Desmond report was the clip that kept on giving

A year ago today, RTE journalist Teresa Mannion went viral on social media following her live report on Storm Desmond for RTE News. Video: RTE

 

RTÉ broadcaster Teresa Mannion has had an “I will be back” moment. Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger is connected to a phrase that brings instant recognition, for the rest of her life, people will be begging Mannion to plead, “Don’t make unnecessary journeys!”

Within hours after the video clip of her rain-drenched, wind-whipped Storm Desmond report went, as they say, viral, Mannion was a bona fide internet meme. Wags worldwide rushed to make their own contribution to the, er, storm of remixes.

There’s the infectious dance remix.

And there’s the one where she gets belted by a stop sign (many people thought that one had really happened, Mannion told Ray Darcy on his afternoon radio show).

My personal favourite is the one that merges the broadcast with clips from the climate disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow.

Others put Mannion in front of Jurassic Park dinosaurs, and Star Wars battles. It was truly the RTÉ clip that kept on giving.

If you missed, it, the original snippet and some of the the remixes can be found here.

Birth of a meme Nothing is more born on the internet than a viral meme.

The very term “viral” as a marketing concept didn’t exist before the internet. Prior to that, an advertisement, a brand, an item might become insanely popular or a mass fad – think Cabbage Patch Dolls or Lacoste polo shirts – but we didn’t think of them as having gone viral.

The ability for individuals to share something – an image, a bit of text in an email, an advertisement, a video – so that the thing spreads far and wide, requires a global network and one with inbuilt spontaneity. Click and share. As with the Facebook “like” button, a single micro-action undertaken with a microsecond’s thought can build quickly into mass recognition.

I first came across the term “viral” at some point in the late 1990s, when I was sent a breathless, jargon-filled press release for a service that the PR agency promised would, no doubt, “go viral”.

To tweak them a bit about using trendy terms that might well be meaningless to many recipients – not the best “communication” technique – I emailed back asking them to please explain what “viral” meant.

HotMail history

They did. However, the service did not, as promised, go viral.

The term itself is credited to veteran Silicon Valley venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) which, in 1996, had the idea of promoting the free webmail service of a new investment called HotMail by adding a tagline to every email: “Get your free Web-based e-mail account at hotmail.com”.

Thousands and then millions of people clicked through and did. In six months, the tiny company had a million users. Within 18 months, that had ballooned to 12 million.

Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson has said that the bare-bones promotion idea,on a $50,000 budget, resulted in one of the first examples of exponential growth in online users of a service – and HotMail’s sale to Microsoft not long after for $400 million.

Often the things that go viral are personal videos or, as with the Mannion broadcast, an accidental, serendipitous moment of broadcasting or filmmaking. But companies increasingly develop advertising campaigns with the deliberate aim of getting them to go viral, in pursuit of brand recognition, a good association or even direct financial reward.

‘Blair Witch’ trailer

The outstanding example of the last while, another early viral internet phenomenon, was the promotional campaign for the Blair Witch Project film.

Made at a cost of $300,000, promoted cheaply through some tense, terse video clips online, the film grossed over $250 million.

Not all that goes viral on the internet also becomes a meme.

A meme is “an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.

That is Wikipedia’s definition, and a somewhat academic one – rightly so, as for years you’d have been unlikely to encounter the word outside an academic paper presented at a conference.

Then, it was co-opted into the internet world.

There, it tends to signify something so well-recognised (because it has gone viral) that it can be reworked in various ways, to entertaining effect.

Those reworkings often then go viral in their own right.

Think ample Kardashian behinds, woodpeckers with weasels on their backs, those endless mashups of topical dialogue over Hitler bunker video clips.

And now, Teresa Mannion earnestly intoning “Don’t make unnecessary journeys” before being washed away by a tsunami.

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