From Leave Britney Alone to Billy Mays, memes on the Internet have served as more than just entertainment for compulsive e-mail forwarders, they have influenced and created business opportunities both online and off and given existing businesses a boost. Anytime you stumble upon a LOLcat or rickroll a friend, you are participating in phenomenons that have not only reached millions of people, but have helped make celebrities out of regular people. Memes provide us with comfort in knowing that anyone, anywhere can reach the masses at any given moment. In some cases Internet memes have led to big business, while in others opportunities vanished as soon as the next meme came along.
Unlike many of the other memes on the Internet, LOLcats have no business behind their original creation. Their original posting and popularity started on 4chan during 2005 and 2006 and spread to many niche humor forums online.
However, it wasn't until a website called "I Can Has Cheezburger" launched in 2007 that LOLcats first got a taste of mainstream attention. Since then, plenty of sites have taken up the LOLcat business, but none have been as successful as ICHC, which was bought in September of 2007 for $2 million by Ben Huh.
As of 2009, the ICHC network was receiving 10 million unique visitors a month and earned seven figures in the first six months of the year.
The Three Wolf Moon t-shirt meme is probably one of the most strange, yet commercially successful products to have come from the Internet. The attention and commercial success the shirt received can be attributed to its hilarious reviews on Amazon, many of which became viral on their own.
Those reviews sparked hundreds of image parodies and plenty of well-produced videos including one by College Humor. We may not know the full extent the viral success had on the t-shirt's manufacturer, but the shirt has remained at the top of Amazon clothing sales for nearly a year now.
It's even been named the official shirt of the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development.
Tay Zonday became an immediate sensation after the 4chan community helped spread his latest song "Chocolate Rain" to the masses online. While the song's theme is very serious, dealing with racial issues in the United States, it went viral as a joke video. Like many of the Internet's finest, Tay made rounds throughout the media, including an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.
Despite successful and lucrative deals with Comedy Central, Dr. Pepper, and Vizio, Tay has not seen any real commercial success as a recording artist, as he continues to post original songs on YouTube for his more than 200,000 subscribers.
Notorious as one of the Internet's most hilarious and annoying memes, Rickroll began on the videogame board of 4chan (/v/) when a user linked to a YouTube video claiming it was the first trailer for the anticipated game, Grand Theft Auto 4. Like most memes who's roots can be tracked to 4chan, Rickrolling was used mostly inside the 4chan community before catching on to the general Internet public.
Now, the whole Rickroll phenomenon did not in itself revive Rick Astley's career, seeing as he had already started being active in the music industry again in 2002, but it did give him an extreme boost in popularity and increased general interest in his music.
Rick even went so far as to thank 4chan's founder m00t in an article for TIME's 100 in 2009.
The Back Dorm Boys were two art students in Guangzhou, China who made videos of themselves lip syncing pop songs in front of a web cam and released them online starting in 2005. The first videos were made to songs by the Backstreet Boys with later songs coming in as requests from fans.
The duo's popularity in their home country of China has made them more than just Internet celebrities, but real celebrities among the Chinese. Just before their college graduation in 2006, the two signed deals with a talent company in Beijing and now work endorsing products for companies like Motorola and Pepsi.
Contrary to popular belief, Billy Mays was not a businessman with ties to products like George Foreman or James Dyson, he was simply a popular TV spokesman. He was basically the Ronald Reagan of the infomercial world. Billy's trademark and energetic product pitches quickly made him an easy target for Internet parodies. Various video parodies of his infomercials and images of his likeness with catch phrases became viral throughout 2008, and well into 2009.
However, we'll never know how far the Billy Mays phenomenon could have gone because he passed away on June 28, 2009. His death cost the Internet a hilarious man, many companies a great spokesman, and his family a loving father.
There's no true way to track the sales of products Billy Mays promoted, but the exposure those products received from his Internet stardom and the viewers his infomercials got because people recognized him and his persona. However, there's no doubt that Billy Mays' reputation and fame helped sell a tremendous amount of household cleaning and other amazing products.
Unlike most viral video creators, Chris Crocker already had a decent following before the release of his "Leave Britney Alone" video. Most of his prior videos were made showing off a great deal of aggression towards his haters on Myspace, while his post-Britney videos became a little more political.
Unfortunately, Chris didn't have much success beyond YouTube. A media/TV deal he was counting on failed due to disagreements on censorship. However, Chris was featured in a Sierra Mist commercial and an episode of Comedy Central's Tosh.0. Despite the lack of success outside the Internet, Chris continues to make regular YouTube videos under a partner deal and now boasts 300,000 subscribers with over 180,000,000 views on his videos.
Much of the success that the popular Internet show, Pure Pwnage, received can be attributed to the character FPS Doug and the catch phrase "boom headshot" that he coined during his introduction in the third episode of the first season. His hyper active and insane behavior was written in as a hilarious stereotype of your average gamer who plays a lot of shooter games.
FPS Doug became an instant Internet celebrity in the gaming community and took Pure Pwnage with him. Over the years, the show gained a hardcore following among gamers thanks to its mockumentary style, great characters and witty writing.
Now -- nearly six years later, Canadian TV channel Showcase just premiered the first episode of the real Pure Pwnage TV show on March 12th.
The most curious combination of Diet Coke and the candy mint Mentos came together first in 2002 when a physics teacher made a demonstration of the experiment on a local news segment. The segment and experiment became extremely popular online.
However, it wasn't until 2006 that the meme truly began to grip the mainstream as online video began to take off and more and more videos demonstrating the reaction were uploaded to the web. Now, there is no way to track the effects that the meme had on the sales of Diet Coke and Mentos, but there's no doubt that there were millions of both products sold because of the influence of the videos across the media and Internet.
The Internet's most popular comedy trio have created some of the web's most memorable viral music videos to date. Riding off Andy Samberg's rise to fame on SNL and the popularity of the group's digital shorts, they took the Internet by storm with original videos like "Dick in a Box", "Jizz in My Pants", and "I'm on a Boat". The group's two non-SNL cast members, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone are regular writers for the show and along with Samberg created one of SNL's most popular skits of recent years, MacGruber -- which is being made into a feature film to be released on May 21st of this year.
The Lonely Island's success with NBC and SNL has no doubt brought them financial success, as producer Lorne Michaels continues to give the group more and more opportunities including, Andy Samberg's role in the 2007 movie Hot Rod and Jorma Taccone's directorial debut with the MacGruber movie.
On top of that, the group's music album has sold 250,000 copies as of 2009 and the single for I'm on a Boat is certified platinum by the RIAA.
Blendtec's popular web series 'Will it Blend?' took the Internet by storm in 2007 with the company's founder Tom Dickson showing off the power of their Total Blender. The series has racked up a total of 93 segments in the past three and a half years with video views totaling 100,000,000 on YouTube alone. The series' most popular videos include the blending of an iPhone, an iPod, glow sticks, and golf balls.
And despite the Total Blender's insane price, ranging from $400-$500, Dickson has stated that the series had an "amazing impact" on their product's sales.
The commercial success that was 300 can be tracked down to the amount of attention the film was given online. Since the first user uploaded a clip from the October 2006 theatrical trailer to Internet joke site YTMND, the Internet has seen thousands of remixed clips and parodies of the This is Sparta!!!? moment. By the time the film actually opened, there was no doubt that it would be a giant hit.
The film went on to make $500,000,000 in theaters and even inspired an entire movie parody in 2008 called Meet the Spartans making this a fine example of how the Internet can influence the offline movie business.
The Snuggie is definitely the most controversial meme on this list. Some probably don't even consider it a meme seeing as it received a lot of attention from the widely-run TV commercials. However, it's hard to argue the Internet did not have an effect on the success and popularity of the product when its cult following and true media attention didn't come until after the commercial and many parodies were making rounds online.
As of early 2009, when its popularity was at its peak, there were 20 million units sold. That's a lot of people out there who don't realize a bathrobe can be worn backwards.