You’ve definitely seen the posts. You might even have participated yourself. With over 2.4 million posts on Instagram alone, the 10 Year Challenge is the latest viral meme burning its way across social media.

As we haven’t seen this type of virality on social media in a while, it’s worth taking a step back and analyzing what’s happening, as well as what this could mean to us.

Why is the #10YearChallenge going viral?

The #10YearChallenge meme has all of the makings of a viral trend. It features pictures of people themselves, which is what people want to post. It’s like a selfie on steroids because you can show exactly how you’ve changed – or not – over the past 10 years.

When you think about it, 10 years is a long time, and it’s about as long as most people have been on social media. It’s also a lot of time to see how things have changed, by adding a nice round number to the passage of the world’ clock.

It’s also easy to put together and has a wow effect. Now with different apps you can stitch a few images together almost immediately. Since people don’t often look at photos side by side (the vertical nature of social feeds is very chronological so people never have the chance to look at a photo from 10 years immediately after a photo of today) the novelty of seeing just how you’ve aged – or haven’t aged – is rather profound.

Then there are all the reasons to share. Anyone who has taken control of their lives and their health and look markedly better now will share in a sort of bragging exercise. People who haven’t changed at all will post to show that they haven’t changed at all in another sort of bragging exerice. People whose visual appearance has declined will not share. Jokesters will post variations to be funny, driving up the total amount of posts. Then activists will jump on it to show the degradation of the environment, for example.

What can we take away from this viral meme?

The first thing we can say is that cameras have gotten much better. 10 years ago not that many people had a camera on their phone and if they did it was rather shitty. People uploaded photos from their digital cameras to their computers. Now iPhones and Android devices have comparable cameras to high end digital cameras from 10 years ago (and in some cases much better). The photos on the right are therefore always much, much better.

Moreover, photo editing used to be the bastion of professional photographers and designers. Today anyone can use a plethora of photo editing apps to reduce shadows, enhance colors, and brush over imperfections. In many of the examples of the 10 year challenge, a lot of the “improvement” is due to retouched photos.

But it wasn’t just the phones, since people take so many more photos, people have also gotten better at taking photos. What’s more, people have gotten better at posing in photos. Appearing in photos now is almost a daily habit for many social media users, whereas 10 years ago it was much more rare. People are actually becoming more skilled at being photogenic.

Could you or your brand launch something this successful?

Possibly. In order to launch something like this you would have to recreate the conditions for success:

  • Something that anyone with a phone can do
  • Something that creates a wow moment
  • Something that appeals to our nature of sharing (selfies)

You could easily see a beauty brand, particularly one with anti-aging products, jump on this trend and encourage its customers to show how they haven’t aged thanks to using their products.

But in order to make a business case, it would require adding a drive-to-store element, sort of like the Ice Bucket Challenge and the requirement to make a donation. That viral meme raised over a $100 million, so it definitely makes sense to try!



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