#StraightOutta the Meme Machine

Last week, I started tracking the latest trend in viral marketing on my social media pages, and could not help but jump on the bandwagon with my own version of the #StraightOutta meme. It prompted me to ask our team first thing on Monday morning at the inevitable weekly status meeting, “Did you make your #StraightOuttaSomewhere meme yet?”

Meme?

By Webster’s definition of a meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” In the context of the Internet meme, this becomes an activity, concept, catchphrase or other form of media which spreads from person to person via the Internet.  In many cases, this is often spread in the form of a parody. An Internet meme can take the form of an image, hyperlink, video, picture, website, or hashtag.

Sometimes explaining a meme with an example best defines it, such as the baby-fist-pump or ‘success kid’ meme that is shown here. This example illustrates what I am referring to here, although memes can take other forms, such as the “Harlem Shake” viral videos that ravaged the Internet…and annoyed many of us in 2013.

The #StraightOuttaSomewhere meme, which can be accessed via app or website, allows users to customize a “Straight Outta” picture and make a play on the phrase, “Straight Outta Compton,” the title of a film based on the rap group N.W.A., and whose 1988 debut album is titled with the same name.

N.W.A. was controversial in that their music contained explicit lyrics that many viewed as being disrespectful of women, glorified drugs, crime, and hatred of the police; the group defended their lyrics as a reflection of a brutally honest life in the South Central area of Los Angeles. Despite the controversy surrounding this group, N.W.A sold over 3 million copies of Straight Outta Compton. The album was not only critically acclaimed by Rolling Stone and Spin, but by Time magazine as well; in fact, the well-regarded magazine ranked it as one of the 100 greatest albums of all time. N.W.A. is considered to be one of the most significant groups in the gangsta rap and ‘West Coast’ hip-hop genres within the rap/hip-hop music genre.

Straight Outta Compton was one of the first albums to have a Parental Advisory label (a.k.a. Tipper Sticker a.k.a. Tipper Gore Stamp Of Disapproval). That was the same label from the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) that Tipper Gore co-founded in 1985, supposedly after witnessing her daughter listening to the song, “Darling Nikki” (Prince).

The label had clout: larger retailers such as Wal-Mart refused to sell albums with the sticker. Despite the backlash, the use of these labels may have backfired as many artists confirmed the Parental Advisory labels attributed to increased sales; in practice they did the exact opposite of what the labels were (indirectly) intended to accomplish.  After all, a record/cassette/CD with an “Explicit Lyrics: Parental Advisory” label in the late 1980s and early 1990s was sure to spark interest among those who were seeking music with explicit content, let alone find it more easily.  If the kids could not get the music at the mall or Wal-Mart, they likely purchased the music at independent record shops on Main Street

Furthermore, Priority Records estimated that four out of five purchases (80% of sales) of Straight Outta Compton came from the suburbs, beyond the inner city.  This supports the notion of the appeal of N.W.A. and their explicit lyrics among youths, particularly white teenage boys from suburbia amidst a time that predated helicopter parenting.

A personal anecdote here: a number of copies of Straight Outta Compton were housed in my Caucasian-dominated freshman college dormitory back in 1989.

Since the release of that pioneering and controversial debut album, two of N.W.A.’s original members, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, managed to find mainstream success in the entertainment industry, and outside of their core line of business. Ice Cube also managed to have a successful acting career (Friday, Barbershop, Are We There Yet?, etc.), contributing to his estimated celebrity net worth of approximately $100 million.  While a financial success indeed, the net worth of Dr. Dre is more fascinating; Dr. Dre has an estimated net worth of $700 billion, with much of his fortune coming from the sale of the company “Beats by Dre,” known for their premium headphones.  Dr. Dre owned 25% of the company, and when Apple bought the Beats by Dre company for $3 billion in 2014, the deal marked the most expensive takeover by Apple while at the same time making Dr. Dre the second wealthiest man in the hip-hop, narrowly behind the estimated $735 million net worth of Sean Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy a.k.a. Diddy a.k.a. P. Diddy), according to Forbes’ 2015 list of hip hop’s wealthiest artists.

Today, a movie based on this ground breaking rap group will be released in theaters nationwide, more than 25 years after the release of their debut album. Given the underground success of this group, it would be fitting that a viral marketing approach would help generate some buzz for the film, and it is here that we circle back to the meme.

The #StraightOuttaSomewhere meme generator was created by Beats by Dre with Universal Pictures, and made available on the “Straight Outta Somewhere” website on August 5 as part of the marketing campaign for the movie’s theatrical release on August 14. Those exposed to the meme quickly went on Instagram and Facebook to create their own version.

The trend with the meme started picking up last Friday (August 7: ~30,000 unique photos) and more than tripled to 100,000 on Instagram by Saturday Night (August 8).  On Monday (August 10), more than 143,000 new pictures were posted on Instagram.

The Hollywood Reporter reported today (August 14) that the “Straight Outta Somewhere” website had approximately 7 million visitors and nearly 6 million downloads of the meme (as of Thursday, August 13). It was the top trend in social media, across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for two days in a row, with an average of 15,000 #StraightOutta postings per minute. The article also reported that more than 400,000 Tweets with this hashtag have been posted since August 6. This meme was innovative and effective in leveraging social media to create the buzz around the movie.

As of today (August 14), the “Straight Outta Compton” verified movie page has 1.8 million “likes” on Facebook – with the pace for increased likes (this week) climbing at a greater rate than last week.

The appeal of the meme is not only among those suburban teenagers who werefans of N.W.A. and who are now grown up; the appeal of the #StraightOutta meme allows social media users to share as a reflection of the pride they have with their hometowns. Celebrities have joined in as well; there is a Jennifer Lopez custom #StraightOutta meme posted on her Twitter page.

And of course, there were the humorous versions of the meme that flooded the Internet as well, many poking fun at celebrities. Here is an example of a lighthearted jab involving rapper 50 Cent, who recently filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The irony of the news story involving a rapper whose lyrics and personality reflect a lavish lifestyle, and who now has to go to court for financial protection, was pretty much a layup for comedy fodder.

The strategy implemented by Universal and Beats by Dre in generating awareness for this movie seems to have hit the mark. On August 1, the Straight Outta Compton logo was on the mat for the UFC card with the main event that featured UFC Champ Ronda Rousey knocking out Beth Correia in 34 seconds. A few days later, an ad for the movie aired during the first Republican debate (another event that lit up social media) on August 6. Now, we have the #StraightOutta meme that went viral.

Needless to say, this campaign and its accompanying use of new media was certainly effective in creating the buzz ahead of today’s nationwide release of Straight Outta Compton. And if 80% of N.W.A.’s debut record sales were from white suburbia, this should bode well for sales at the box office this opening weekend.

UPDATE: This piece was written on Friday, August 14 prior to the release of the movie. As of Monday morning, Variety reported “Straight Outta Compton” had opening weekend sales of $56.1 million, the biggest debut weekend for an R-rated movie in August.

Lance Henik

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