If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you may have noticed that one of the top trending topics has been “Nigel Thornberry.” Kids and parents of the 90s and early 2000s recognize this name as the father character on Nickelodeon’s The Wild Thornberrys (1998-2004), but what could bring such popularity to a character from a show that ended seven years ago?
The answer: Sam Antonioli, a 17-year-old high schooler from a small northwestern town, also known as BitCrunch on YouTube. As he explains in the video below, earlier this weekend, he and some Internet friends found an amusing sound clip on Tumblr from The Wild Thornberrys of Nigel Thornberry (voiced by Tim Curry) incoherently grumbling. He was inspired to remix Katy Perry’s hit “Firework” with the sound clip, posted the video to Tumblr, and a meme was born. The original Tumblr post has since been reblogged tens of thousands of times, “Nigel Thornberry” has been trending on Twitter for more than 23 hours so far, many have gotten in on the meme with their remixes of popular songs, and tons of animated gifs and image macros are flooding the web. In just a few days, it’s become a hugely popular meme, taking the online world by storm.
Can marketers actually create a meme from the ground up, though? Sam says in his video, “I never had the intention of starting a meme to begin with, and it just kind of blew up. I guess that’s how the Internet works, right?” and it is true that the Internet is often wildly unpredictable. Most memes are formed and spread organically and by pure chance. The biggest forces behind memes, users of sites like 4chan and Reddit, are usually quick to call out any inauthenticity, so hiding commercial goals while trying to spread a meme can be difficult. That’s not to say creating a meme is impossible, though, and it would definitely be an effective way to market a brand.
Brands can also benefit from an already-existing meme. The modern incarnation of My Little Pony, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, inspired the “bronies” phenomenon, a meme that got its start on 4chan and has continued spreading throughout the web, allowing an unexpected, yet sizable, new audience to be exposed to the show. Nickelodeon undoubtedly should take advantage of the Nigel Thornberry meme to sell DVDs and show merchandise while interest in The Wild Thornberrys is high.
Supercool Creative spoke with the meme’s smashing creator, Sam Antonioli, to get his perspective on the Nigel Thornberry explosion.
SC: Why do you think the meme has exploded as it has?
SA: In all honesty I had no idea that my initial Nigel Remix was going to take off. I think it was just a stroke of luck that people found it so amusing that they kept reblogging the post on Tumblr. It happened totally by chance.
SC: How does it feel to be more or less an Internet celebrity?
SA: I don’t consider myself to be in any means an “Internet celebrity.” I think the real celebrities here are Nigel Thornberry and all of the other artists that have created Nigel Remixes.
SC: Has the meme’s popularity drawn attention also to your musical pursuits? Do you think it will help advance your musical career?
SA: In a way it has. I mean, I will always be making music regardless of my popularity, but it’s nice to see that some people have scouted my personal Tumblr enough to find that I actually create music other than the Nigel Remixes. It’s sort of a creepy way of letting me know that some people are actually interested in other aspects of my musical life. When it comes to advancing my music career; there is no doubt that I have received a lot of attention, but it’s up to the public to say if they like my other music or not. Nonetheless I’ll still be creating music, whether it be a remix involving a children’s TV show or an original creation.
SC: Do you think this meme will endure for a long time?
SA: I don’t think so. Memes come and go across the internet, and I think within the next few weeks this will just be another part of ancient internet history. But hopefully it inspires others to make more internet oddities and to post them around.
SC: What’s your favorite meme (other than this one!)?
SA: That’s a hard question! There are so many great memes out there. Before I even knew about Tumblr, I was watching memes on YouTube called “YouTube Poop” which are mostly composed of mashing incoherent vocals and video from different sources together to cause the characters in the scenes to say inappropriately hilarious things that usually don’t make any sense. But I love the obvious classics such as “Forever Alone,” “Joseph Ducreux,” and “Foul Bachelor Frog.”
SC: Have you had Internet successes in the past like this? Or have you tried to popularize something that didn’t get much traction?
SA: I mean, I’ve obviously never created a meme before this, so I haven’t had this much attention on me ever in my online life. Last year however, I co-produced an electropop album for YouTube musician and personality Joseph Birdsong through an online record company called DFTBA Records which got a fair amount of attention within the YouTube community. I think that if you try to popularize something like a meme on purpose you’re bound to fail. I made the Nigel Remixes because I though it was funny, and apparently others think it is too.
SC: What do you think of a marketing agency trying to create a meme to promote a product?
SA: It all depends on if the meme takes off. Hundreds of thousands of original funny posts are created and uploaded to the internet constantly, and I apparently drew the wild card that made it blow up.
SC: Do you think Nickelodeon will or should try to exploit this meme to sell The Wild Thornberrys merchandise, DVDs, etc.?
SA: If I was Nickelodeon, I would jump on this bandwagon. Why not, you know? People obviously have The Wild Thornberrys in their head right now, who wouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity? Honestly, I forgot that The Wild Thornberrys even existed until I saw the initial Tumblr post of the Nigel soundclip.
SC: Do you think it’s possible to intentionally create a meme?
SA: I don’t think it’s impossible, but I believe that the chance is very slim that some person or organization can create a meme and force it to take off like “Nigel Remix” and others have. It all has to do with the reaction of the internet. I honestly got lucky. Really lucky. People just love Nigel Thornberry and that’s why it took off I guess!
SC: The explosion of this meme demonstrates that the Internet can be out-of-control and totally unpredictable. Do you think this is because it’s such a new medium or is it inherent to its nature?
SA: I’m not by any means an expert when it comes to memes, but from my current experience with the Nigel Remix, I believe that Tumblr, Reddit, and other platforms have roots in humor. People like to ‘lol,’ and the Nigel Remix has shown me that just a pointless meme can make a lot of people smile and it can spark a mad amount of creativity. I think it’s just the nature of the Internet that caused this to explode. People thought it was funny, so they reposted it, and then those people thought it was funny and reposted it, and so on. This is what is great about the Internet; it doesn’t matter who you are, you can make an impact.
Sam Antonioli’s experience demonstrates both the unpredictability of the Internet and ability for online media to reach enormous audiences rapidly. Do you think memes can be intentionally created, and should they be utilized for marketing purposes?