The Meme That Breaks Your Business (It’s Silent But Deadly.)

Be warned.

Memes are everywhere.

They could be lurking EVERYWHERE in your business.

: In your website template.

: In the colors you choose.

: On your about page.

: In your headshot.

: In the language you use.

And the worst thing? You may not even know it.

Geez, Erika, chill, I hear you saying, Isn’t a meme like that picture of Ryan Gosling going “Hey, girl…”? You’re making it sound like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Well, it is Ryan Gosling. And the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

And here’s why. Or how. I can’t decide. Okay, both.

First of all, Merriam-Webster defines meme: “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”

So that means that a meme acts as a carrier of popular ideas, which then replicate themselves everywhere in our world. Like aliens, the flu, or that Michael Keaton movie from the ‘90s.

And since a lot of our world takes place online, those popular ideas and images spread super fast. And push themselves in our faces everyday.

Which is why you suddenly see Ryan Gosling everywhere. Or the colors mint & orange. Or handwritten fonts. Or a certain website template.

That seems innocent enough.

Well, here’s where the Body Snatchers come in.

Many of these memes are so subtle that they become part of our daily life without us noticing. Like the phrase “I know, right?”

(Which I use all the time. Let’s blame it on the 5000 viewings of Valley Girl in the ‘80s. And now I CAN’T stop talking like a Valley Girl, no matter how old I get. Totally, like, you know?)

And even spookier?

We start using memes to represent us – and our online presence – without even thinking about it. Without questioning it.

You know why? Because when you’re not paying close attention, memes disguise themselves as popularity. As trends. And we like being on-trend.

It feels cutting edge. It’s using this month’s colors, combined with the most popular WordPress theme, and a sprinkling of hand-lettering. Suddenly you’re IN.

People don’t have to guess what you’re about. They RECOGNIZE the meme, and accept it as the trend of the moment.

Because they see it everywhere.

Because it looks like everything else.

Because it’s comfortable. It’s familiar.

See, it only FEELS cutting edge. In reality, a meme makes you part of the crowd.

A meme erases individuality – without you even noticing.

And that’s scary. Bodysnatcher scary.

But the meme lesson isn’t over. And it gets worse before it gets better.

(Don’t worry! It DOES get better. You can escape the memes.)

Do you know where the word meme comes from?

The ancient Greek word mimene, which means …

To imitate.

A meme’s sole purpose is to copy. Maybe with minute variations, but it’s still about copying.

Memes make you think you’re adding something new to the conversation when in reality you’re being ABSORBED.

Maybe that sounds a little alarmist – but I AM alarmed. I’m ALWAYS alarmed when people give up originality in favor of mindless copying.

So I’m asking you:

Are you a meme, mindlessly imitating ideas you haven’t even questioned?

I don’t know, Erika, and you’re really freaking me out too! So what do I do to fight the memes?

Well, we’re going to turn to a master with the advice that can save us all.

No, it’s not Yoda.

It’s Salvador Dali, and he said:

“What society needs is a good dose of exaggeration.”

Yes, Dali. The surrealist with the ice-pick sharp moustache, perfectly tailored jewel colored suits, and the beautiful wife who would whip out a crystal ball and read fortunes when they were out at cafes.

Even if you don’t know his art, you probably recognize him. NOT as a meme. But as a very specific person, who presented a very specific image that simply can’t be mindlessly copied.

And even though there are plenty of spoofs on Dali and his work, you always know that he’s the original.

That’s why it’s a spoof. And not a meme.

NOBODY can out-Dali Dali. He’s unique. And original. And memorable. If he were on the Internet today, he’d be doing something outrageous and getting a billion hits a minute.

He would NEVER fade into a crowd.

And he wouldn’t want you to either. ESPECIALLY not you.


You don’t have a crazy long, swooped up, pimped out moustache. Or even a moustache.

How do you NOT be a meme?

Dali didn’t mean we all have to look and act eccentric – like him. What Dali meant is don’t hold back. Not even one little bit.

You’re not known because of how you fit in. You’re known because of how you stand out.

That’s why we recognize Dali. Because he stands out. As a person and as an artist.

Even if you aren’t into art history, you connect Dali to the Surrealist movement. His painting The Persistence of Memory is one of the most recognized works of art. Ever. Right up there with the Mona Lisa.

Dali didn’t invent Surrealism – you can thank Andre Breton for that. But can you remember anything that Breton created? Or even what he looked like?

And there were a LOT of Surrealists too – Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Giorgio de Chirico …

But who do we remember? It’s Dali. That’s because while the other Surrealists were off writing manifestos and arguing whether women could be artists, Dali was sweeping around being larger than life.

And he wasn’t doing it because he was a lunatic – even though it seemed like he was.

He was doing it because he understood one thing better than most artists EVER do.

He knew that to be a success, he had to stand out. He even states in the Mike Wallace interview that just painting wasn’t enough:

“The painting, the clowning, the showmanship, the technique – everything. . . must express the total personality of Dali.”

He knew that being a painter wasn’t enough to be successful – and he was very focused on success.

He wanted to be recognizable in a field CROWDED with other great artists. Not just the surrealists.

Pablo Picasso was hanging around at the time, along with Matisse, Chagall, Cezanne, and Braque – all making ground-breaking art – and a lot of them were broke, scrambling for money just to buy paint.

He was smart enough to see that the public made a distinction between the paintings and the painters.

So much of a distinction that many patrons of the arts didn’t think about the creator at all, just how the creation might look in their salon.

So Dali made the work of art indistinguishable from the artist. He BECAME the artwork.

He set the standard for blurring the line between artist and art.


Few artists have EVER attained the same visibility and success that Dali had. All because he deliberately exaggerated himself.

Sound like anyone else you can think of? Lady Gaga, Madonna, Mohammed Ali, or Andy Warhol, maybe?

It’s not how you fit in – it’s how you stand out.

That’s the lesson from Dali.

If you’re worried that standing out means the Internet equivalent of driving around in a limo full of cauliflower, talking about rhinoceros tears, don’t worry – it’s not.

In fact, it’s not even complicated.

Take something that already exists in you, and exaggerate it.

: If you’re a hugger, hug more!

: If you’re a streaker, streak more!

: If you’re bossy, boss more!

: If you love red shoes, buy more red shoes!


And here’s the real secret.

The best thing about you is often the thing you play down the most. Might even be ashamed of. Are hiding because it doesn’t seem like it fits in.

It’s time to introduce another EPIC CHARACTER who Dali might have envied – Diana Vreeland.

If you don’t know DV, she started as a staffer and fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar from 1936 – 1962, and was the chief editor of Vogue from 1963 – 1971, after which she became consultant for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

She was THE influential voice and vision of fashion for nearly 50 years – and her entire philosophy to fashion and to life is summed up in her quote:

“Exaggeration is my only reality.”

She wasn’t just talking about her own lifestyle – even though she swooped around in red sheaths and kabuki make-up.

She meant it about fashion, and what people want when they look at a magazine.

Before DV, women’s magazines reflected everyday life. Frocks for daytime, hostess gowns, pretty aprons, and lots of tips on child rearing and the care and feeding of husbands.

When Diana hit the scene, she instinctively KNEW that women wanted more. Something to aspire to. Something to fantasize about. Something that would get their creative juices going.

It only took a short time with DV behind the scenes to go from way conservative – to way SEXY!

Meow. Steve Mcqueen! I digress.

Hard to believe, but DV was …

: The FIRST to put a live model on the cover of a fashion magazine.

: The FIRST to create a ‘fashion editorial.’

: The FIRST to do a fashion shoot on location.

Women were already tied to the home and the stove, they certainly didn’t want to read MORE about it. And if they did, there was always Ladies Home Journal. So said DV.

Diana Vreeland believed in living large. She knew that she wasn’t classically beautiful, but she not only made the most of what she had, she exaggerated her features proudly.

In seeing glamour where no one else thought to look, DV broke fashion boundaries and employed models that defied notions of classical beauty – introducing the likes of Veruschka, Penelope Tree, and the first supermodel: Twiggy.

DV was VERY intentional about using unusual models – and occasionally herself – in photo shoots. She wanted EVERYONE to know that they could be amazing.

And her trick was to exaggerate what no one had ever thought of exaggerating. Or wanted to. But when she did it – it made perfect sense …

: Make the long neck longer.

: The almond eye more almond.

: The hair wilder than you could expect.

… suddenly what a woman wanted to hide became the ultimate in chic.

So think how this the concept of EXAGGERATION translates to your business. And how being unique is the ultimate meme-buster.

It may mean coming off trend.

It may mean straying from the crowd.

It may mean discarding making a little heart with your fingers at your next photoshoot.

It may mean doing something scary, and true, and deep.

A grand gesture – a declaration of independence.

Need a little courage? How about a lot?

Then look at Viktoria Modesta. This video is everywhere right at the moment, but I want you to watch it. NOW.

Watch it all the way to the end – something REALLY exciting happens.

Viktoria’s taking something that many people would try to hide or cover up, and not only has she brought it out into the open, she’s exaggerated it to the point where it becomes beautiful art.

It’s hot. It’s totally un-memeable.

No other rock star, actress, or model is EVER going to be able to strut around with a neon prosthetic – without everyone knowing the source. And I bet there’s at least one wishing that they could.

Too late. That’s Viktoria.


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