How ghost chips became New Zealand’s favourite fast food

November 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Who would have guessed that giving away ghost chips could save lives? The people behind the Legend don’t drink and drive advert could not in their wildest dreams have expected it to have become such a runaway hit.

That’s because the Land Transport Safety Authority advert aimed at young Maori male drivers (and others) has gone viral, taken on a life of its own and become a New Zealand internet meme.

Not only has it nailed its target demographic, it has become a popular cultural touchstone. The over 1,200,000 views on YouTube since it was posted on October 20 illustrate just how wildly popular it has become.

Ghost chips have even been sold on Trade Me and the You Know I Can’t Grab Your Ghost Chips Facebook page has achieved over 26,000 Likes.

Meanwhile, the election campaign has also given it legs in this version on the Labour Party’sRed Alert blog. And there’s this witty and satirical hip hop remash by The Cuzzies that has achieved 170,000 views and is becoming an internet smash in its own right.

Designed by Clemenger BBDO and directed by Steve Ayson, the Legend ad was first screened on television before the Rugby World Cup final last month. Its success is in part due to the different approach taken from the usual menu of don’t drink and drive themes that we have become accustomed to.

This time shock and horror are out. Instead the focus is on making a right choice – by “internalising a complicated situation” (another phrase that has also become a mini-meme) – a choice that doesn’t result in being haunted by a dead mate and his ghost chips.

Like other spontaneous New Zealand internet memes including Always Blow On The Pie and Nek Minnit, ghost chips are now part of the country’s vernacular.

It’s enormous fun watching memes multiply. This may be because clever memes make us laugh. People compete to come up with results that are more ‘out there’ and hilarious than those that came before. Memes also have a short life span. Try as you might, you can’t reverse engineer a meme. Make a meme, and more often than not, it will fall flat. They arrive unexpectedly, they multiply like an algal bloom and they die when the oxygen of relevancy runs out.

If you are still unsure about what constitutes a meme, see this Wikipedia explanation or better still, this segment of a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory. It is encapsulated in this exchange between super nerds, Sheldon and Amy.

Amy: Are you familiar with meme theory?

Sheldon: I’m familiar with everything, but go on.

Amy: Meme theory suggests that items of gossip are like living things that seek to reproduce using humans as their host.

Sheldon: I am no stranger to memetic epidemiology. At Johnson Elementary School, the phrase Shelly Cooper is a smelly pooper spread like wildfire.

Amy: I should think so. That’s gold!

If an original theme that sparked a meme fest wasn’t embarrassing enough (remember Princess Beatrice’s hat at this year’s Royal Wedding?), topical enough (the Obama White House situation room) or clever enough (ghost chips), why would anyone get out the Photoshop and bother?

You could say that another way to describe meme theory is to say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The creators of ghost chips should be flattered because what they came up with is, in Amy Farrar-Fowler’s word, gold.

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