Why Screaming Goats and Random Cats Matter


Screaming goats, random cats. They are some of the most popular pieces of content online and to many seem like a waste of time and space. In a recent post on Fast Company  Google’s Abigail Posner explains why they aren’t just mindless distractions, instead they reflect a real human need to elevate the everyday, make connections, and exchange energy.

“This is what the Internet is all about, people. A killer song, a stupid meme, a nostalgic throwback to 2001, and, most important, bites of dumb hilarity that come in 30-second bursts.”

Huffington Post on the Harlem Shake, February 2013

Posner says that “Google searches for Cat GIFs hit an all-time high last month. And we took 380 billion photos last year–that’s 10% of all the photos taken . . . ever. But let’s be honest–these memes are fun, but they don’t matter, right? They’re pretty much a waste of time.”

She has done research to see what brands can learn from these visual plays (in fact her research has kicked off Googles The Engagement Project).  Posner says that “To get to the bottom of these memes, we assembled a team of original thinkers–anthropologists, digital vanguards, and content creators–to dig a little deeper into this “visual web.” We also spoke to gen-Cers–the people who grew up on the web or behave as though they did–and who thrive on creation, curation, connection, and community.”

Cute-little-kitty-wearing-blue-toque-dancing-to-and-fro-to-musicThe research showed that far from distracting from more serious things, “viral pictures, videos, and memes reconnect us to an essential part of ourselves. And by understanding what’s at the root of our obsession with the visual web, brands can create the kind of content that resonates in today’s culture.”

Abigail Posner outlines some reasnos why it resonates, which I have summarised here:


It may seem that all we’re doing is just capturing every mundane moment. But look closely. These everyday moments are shot, displayed, and juxtaposed in a way that offers us a new perspective. And then all of a sudden these everyday moments, places, and things look . . . fascinating.

This fascination with the familiar is deeply rooted. …we strive to elevate the everyday by feeding our appetite for imagination and discovery. The web allows us to do this on a scale we’ve simply never seen before.


Let’s say you’re a fan of Les Mis. But you also think the whole screaming goats thing is hilarious. Even though they seem very different, to you they’re connected–if only by the passion you share for them. So you take a leap of imagination and make that connection.

Neuroscientists explain that synapses occur inside the brain when we’ve made a connection between various different things. The more random the components connected, the more synapses occur. Synapses are the basis of creativity. In other words, synapses firing equals creative joy.

The visual web frees us to return to a childlike state, where we can adventure through a whole array of different, seemingly unrelated images and clips–be they old, new, from a world away or own backyard–sparking our all-important synapses and helping us come up with new combinations and ideas so easily.

Uninhibited by linearity and stimulated by all the access to imagery, synaptic play takes hold and we’re free to indulge in a purer kind of creativity. Or, as we call it, the Nyan Cat Dubstep Remix. And even if we’re just watching these crazy creations, we are still celebrating and appreciating all this synaptic play, and it inspires us!


The only thing better than going on this journey of discovery is sharing it with others. This “gift” of sharing contributes to an energy exchange that amplifies our own pleasure–and is something we’re hardwired to do.

In the language of the visual web, when we share a video or an image, we’re not just sharing the object, we’re also sharing in the emotional response it creates.

There are billions of these energy exchanges happening every day. Whether we’re posting, commenting, liking, repinning, or +1ing, our new visual culture is one in which we’re constantly offering each other little gifts, little moments of pleasure that remind us we’re truly and deeply bonded to one another.

It all matters

According to Posner “In the end, it all matters: every meme, GIF, and seemingly silly video. Nowhere else can we rediscover the fascination of our everyday world, spark synapses that unlock our creative potential, and amplify the joy we feel in a global exchange of energy. And through it all, we connect more deeply with each other–and ourselves.”

What does it mean for you?

Brands and their creative agencies need to stop thinking like advertisers and start to tap into this visual play and think like creators.  Its about content not commercials. Posner gives a few starting points to get you going:

  1. Help people rediscover the beauty of a forgotten familiar.

  2. Find something familiar–in your product, brand, or from people’s lives–and help us see it in a fascinating new light. It could be as simple as taking a kitchen appliance and turning it into a science experiment.

  3. Find ways to spark synaptic play and participation.

  4. Search for your brand online. Chances are your fans are already mixing and mashing your brand with something seemingly unrelated. Build on it, fuel it, steer it, and help us make more with it.

  5. Give happiness we can share in.

  6. Ditch the pitch. Instead, start an energy exchange. Create content that reminds us of our own capacity for excitement, happiness, and vivacity so we want to share in it with others.

And to sign off this post – the ultimate goat compilation 



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