“My friend Gen likes it on the barstool,” writes Melissa Bell on Washington Post Voices. “My friend Jasmine likes it in the car.” (Bell, 2010)
All of a sudden Facebook feeds in 2010 were filling up with posts about where women “liked it” in what must have appeared to be some kind of cyberage free love hedonism. MeToo hadn’t happened yet, so maybe it seemed possible to some of us.
Unfortunate, as it must have been for some, the whole episode had nothing to do with “kinky female fantasies, but, inexplicably, breast cancer.” (As Cited By Casserly, 2010)
The Breast Cancer Awareness meme of the early 2010s, that appeared on social media and baffled us men; was a viral success because it tapped into something we all love to hate (cancer) while employing humor, secrecy, sex, mystified men, and maybe some “slacktivism.” And yet could it have done better? Or should it have been done at all?
An assortment of the “I likes” included: “the kitchen table, the backseat of a car, [a] nightstand, the floor, in the closet, on the stairs… and on the washing machine.” (Casserly, 2010)
“Titillating the Facebook newsfeeds… women [were] posting where they like to keep their purses… but they conveniently [left] out the word ‘purse.'” Wrote Melissa Bell in her Washington Post blog. (Bell, 2010)
The rug was eventually yanked out from underneath all of the perceived debauchery when people started figuring out the actual meaning behind the meme; after all, “the status updates naturally [got] their friends to ask them about their commentary, which [was] exactly the point of this meme.” Said Ben Parr on Mashable, adding that “part of the reason this meme has gone viral is due to its heavy sexual connotations.” (Parr, 2010)
Another viral meme that preceded the jaw-dropping “I Like” meme occurred in January of 2010 which came to be known as the “color status.” And thankfully I wasn’t the only person on Facebook to scratch my head at that one. “Women posted the color of their bra as their Facebook status.” (Bell, 2010) At one point, the “‘color status on Facebook’ was number 11 on Google Trends and was making fast gains on Twitter.” (James, 2010)
The color trend seemed to begin with an anonymous “chain e-mail that asked women to forward it to all the female friends in their address book,” says Susan Donaldson James on ABC News. (James, 2010) The chain e-mail read:
“Some fun is going on…. write the colour of your bra in your status..just the colour, nothing else, and send this on to ONLY girls no men… it will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men will wonder why all the girls have a color in their status…thanks, ladies!” (James, 2010)The annonymous “color trend” email that may have started the meme.
No one had any real idea where the meme got its start in the first place. A woman told ABC News in 2010 that she was “convinced the Facebook phenomenon started in Britain” and picked up steam in the United States. She said, “I saw my Irish and English friends post colors in the past few days and now the Yanks are at it.” (James, 2010)
“As the chain’s popularity exploded – ‘pink,’ ‘purple,’ ‘I don’t wear one’ were among the countless posts — some key questions arose.” Wrote Rob Manker for the Chicago Tribune. “Was the movement legit or merely the latest example of slacktivism, a feel-good effort with little in the way of real results?” (Manker, 2010)
And that is the question, did any of these memes accomplish what they were purportedly created to do? It seems to depend on whom you ask. “It’s a terrific example of how little things get started on the Internet and go a long way to raise cancer awareness.” A Susan G Komen spokesman told ABC News. (James, 2010)
The Susan G. Komen Foundation did report an “increase in interest and contributions following the popular viral memes.” (As Cited by Mahoney & Tang, 2017) Yet the “I Like It” meme “circulated during the opening days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” so as making it “difficult to link the cause of [those] donations.” (Mahoney & Tang, 2017)
“What good has it really done for breast cancer awareness? Does anyone on Facebook really not know about breast cancer?” Asked Hortense Smith on Jezebel. “Posting your bra color may have temporarily reminded someone that breast cancer exists, but it certainly didn’t do anything to ensure that it won’t exist forever.” (Smith, 2010)
Cyberactivism is “one of the most powerful forms of social media mobilization,” as we can convince ourselves that we are doing good for the world without exerting much effort. (Mahoney & Tang, 2017)
“Every person has their cause that is close to their heart, and we often feel these things speak closely to our life experience and identity… [and] we are eager to share cyberactivism efforts with our own-networked community and ask them to join.” (Mahoney & Tang, 2017)
Many wished the viral breast cancer campaign had “linked additional breast cancer prevention material or donation options” Says Strategic Social Media. Another issue pointed out that the messages spreading the meme were private and only included women; cutting short the number of people understanding the full scope of the awareness campaign. (Mahoney & Tang, 2017)
“I changed my status, but I don’t know anything more about breast cancer or how to protect myself against it. Now all my Facebook friends just know the color of my bra.” Said Shereen Meraji for NPR. (Meraji, 2010)
The memes could have taken advantage of Facebook users’ willingness to help by also linking up the memes to something that may have been beneficial to the fight against breast cancer; like information on early detection or a button to donate.
“While female solidarity’s great, the element of titillation is undeniable; ‘the male gaze’ is — literally — apt here. Whether the ‘that’s what she said’-style viral campaign is harmless, and the ends justify the means, is up to you.” Said Sadie Stein for Jezebel. “Here’s the thing: we’d find it more palatable if each innuendo went beyond the rather vague ‘awareness’ and included a donation — or at least a link — towards material breast cancer research support.” (Stein, 2010)
“The challenge is you are seeing certain cryptic messages, and they are interesting, but I haven’t seen it lead anywhere. I am really intrigued and think there is a possibility to bring it to the next level.” Karen Young, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit breastcancer.org, told ABC News. (James, 2010)
The Breast Cancer Awareness memes were extremely effective in spreading but didn’t have all of the ingredients that made the 2014 “Ice Bucket Challenge” so successful. “Videos of people from around the world accepting the challenge, and challenging their friends, took the internet by storm.” (Strub, 2019)
The 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge benefiting ALS was fairly easy and didn’t require much from its participants. You either dunked a bucket of ice over your head or you made a donation online (some participants did both). And you didn’t have much time to mull over what your move was; you had a day to either donate, stand under an icy shower of water, or break the chain by not participating. The challenge also required “participants to encourage three additional people to participate” which both increased the spread by “creating a multiplier effect” that increased the odds that at least one person would pass the meme on. (Boko, 2014)
There was also quite a bit of one-upmanship spurring along the Ice Bucket Challenge, each participant trying to outdo the last for the most ridiculous Ice Bucket stunt. All one need do is search “Ice Bucket Challenge Fails” for a hilarious look at the one-upmanship going awry. Or check out Seattle’s real-life “superhero” Pheonix Jones’ Ice Bucket challenge which included an Ice Bucket, an icy pool, and a Taser gun, it was awesome.
The Ice Bucket Challenge earned “tens of millions of views across every social media platform.” The challenge has rightfully been praised as one of the “most successful social fundraising efforts of all time.” Said Chris Strub for Forbes. “A recent report from independent research firm RTI International found that donations from the 2014 Ice Bucket Challenge helped the ALS Association increase its annual funding for research worldwide by 187%.” (Strub, 2019)
So, if the Breast Cancer Meme reboot is on the horizon, it surely could use some tinkering to employ some of the Ice Bucket Challenge best practices; and at the very least a breast cancer donation link. Although it would be hard to imagine this kind of meme smooth-sailing over social media, post-MeToo.
All of that said, whether you thought the breast cancer meme was crass, ineffective, or missed the intended mark it was easily one of the most effective viral campaigns even if no one really has a great idea of who exactly was behind starting it.
All that being said, it is fairly easy to now compare how well the Breast Cancer campaign did against another viral campaign that checked all of the viral success boxes the way the Ice bucket Challenge did… The breast cancer memes were a viral success, got a ton of press, and people today are still talking about it.
Bell, M. (2010, October 5). I like it on … your Facebook status. Retrieved from The Washington Post: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/blog-post/2010/10/i_like_it_on_your_facebook_sta.html
Boko, G. (2014, August 27). 6 Viral-Marketing Lessons to Learn From the Ice Bucket Challenge. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/236843
Casserly, M. (2010, October 6). ‘I like it on the…’ Kinky Facebook Meme For Breast Cancer. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2010/10/06/i-like-it-on-the-kinky-facebook-meme-for-breast-cancer-awareness-month/#476fe20b4187
James, S. D. (2010, January 8). Bra Color Status on Facebook Goes Viral. Retrieved from ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/bra-color-status-facebook-raises-curiosity-money-viral/story?id=9513986
Kanalley, C. (2010, 10 5). ‘I Like It On’ Facebook Status Update Goes Viral: What It Means. Retrieved from HuffPost: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/i-like-it-on-facebook-sta_n_751756
Mahoney, L., & Tang, T. (2017). Strategic Social Media. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Manker, R. (2010, January 11). Facebook’s burning question: Bra color. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2010-01-11-1001100112-story.html
Meraji, S. (2010, January 8). Facebook, Bra Color And What It Means (Or Doesn’t Mean) For Breast Cancer Awareness. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2010/01/facebook_bra_color_and_breast.htmlsc=fb&cc=fp&fbclid=IwAR3JwS9zLLdPxbMQQ0rc2sCkAXRf97xesuJNnBDjlyfbPHtg3rXBIEbLVk0&sc=fb&cc=fp&fbclid=IwAR3JwS9zLLdPxbMQQ0rc2sCkAXRf97xesuJNnBDjlyfbPHtg3rXBIEbLVk0?sc=
Parr, B. (2010, October 6). “I Like It On” Facebook Breast Cancer Campaign Goes Viral. Retrieved from Mashable: https://mashable.com/2010/10/06/i-like-it-on-facebook/
Smith, H. (2010, January 9). Thanks For Sharing, But Your Bra Color Isn’t Going To Cure Cancer. Retrieved from Jezebel: https://jezebel.com/thanks-for-sharing-but-your-bra-color-isnt-going-to-cu-5444444
Stein, S. (2010, October 6). Breast Cancer Awareness Just Gets Sexier Every Day. Retrieved from Jezebel: https://jezebel.com/breast-cancer-awareness-just-gets-sexier-every-day-5657153
Strub, C. (2019, June 11). Ice Bucket Challenge Boosted ALS Association Annual Funding By 187%: Report. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrisstrub/2019/06/11/icebucketchallenge/#2710580e2411