TD02 – Dawkins on Memes

Former Oxford Professor, Richard Dawkins, is well known for his witty and elegant explanations of how Darwin’s Theory works in genetic detail. It’s all about replicator power!

Fitness survives!

In Dawkin’s acclaimed book on Darwin’s Theory, The Selfish Gene, he showed how fitness survives not only in biology but wherever we can find replicators at work.

As another example he coined the word meme as a unit of culture which gets passed on from person to person. A meme is a replicator like a gene. Successful genes replicate from DNA to DNA and successful memes replicate from brain to brain via word-of-mouth (WOM).

(An internet usage of the word meme has mutated to refer to pics of cats and other catchy but unimportant things to spread around to pass away idle time).

“Memes can be good ideas, good tunes, good poems, as well as drivelling mantras.” says Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow. “Anything that spreads by imitation, as genes spread by bodily reproduction or by viral infection, is a meme … As with genes, we can expect the world to become filled with memes that are good at the art of getting themselves copied from brain to brain … It is enough that memes vary in their infectivity for darwinian selection to get going … We may think this spreading for the sake of spreading rather futile, but nature is not interested in our judgements, of futility or anything else. If a piece of code has what it takes, it spreads and that’s that … In Climbing Mount Improbable I explained that an elephant’s DNA and a virus are both ‘Copy Me’ programmes. The difference is that one of them has an almost fantastically large digression: ‘Copy me by building an elephant first’. But both kinds of programmes spread because, in their different ways, they are good at spreading.

The meme is a very useful tool for understanding how WOM in marketing works because it allows us to harness much of the power of Darwin’s Theory. Today, memetics is one of the fastest growing ideas in science. Memetics allows us to understand not only how people get ideas but, more importantly, how ideas acquire people or how minds become memed.

NOTE: Just a note on repetition. As you’ll see, repetition is a very powerful tool when we’re establishing new brain patterns. For example, you’ll notice repetition in this training course and the main point is that it is deliberately put there for your benefit. It’s to help your brain acquire these ideas more easily, or, to put it another way, to help these ideas acquire your brain more easily. The most important memes are the ones that are invested with the most repetition.

Susan Blackmore in her enlightening book The Meme Machine explains, “We do copy each other all the time and we underestimate what is involved because imitation comes so easily to us. When we copy each other, something, however intangible, is passed on. That something is the meme. And taking a meme’s eye view is the foundation of memetics.”


— Click through here to Susan’s delightful TED talk

In marketing, nothing is more important than taking the meme’s eye-view because nothing is more important than WOM.

WOM is the meme that gets itself passed on from one customer to another. Or, a meme is the WOM that allows one customer’s brain to become ‘infected’ by another brain.

Memes reside in the brain (like genes reside in DNA) and how they get from one brain to another is what memetics is all about. Only the fittest memes survive.

Think of the marketplace as the meme pool. There are vastly more memes than there are brains to shelter them.

Which ones will survive? Why? Which ones will fail? Why?


DFQ TD02 Feedback Question:

What is a meme?

Give an example of a meme that has been good at getting inside and surviving in your brain …

273 thoughts on “TD02 – Dawkins on Memes

  1. Memes can be anything that is replicated by another once they have seen/heard it from someone else.

    The memes that survive the longest in my brain involve courtesy and respect.

  2. A meme is something that is replicated by one person to another.

    There is always opportunity you just need to work hard to find it sometimes no matter how bad the climate.

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