18/06/2015 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Decoding The Tequila Meme

Bill Boch via Getty Images

By Ranjan Malik

They say tequila is a little overrated. It's not one of the smoothest liquors out there. The alcohol 'burns' and the intense aftertaste doesn't help.

So what helped it become one of the most desirable of the lot? There's enough recorded history in public domain if you are interested, but very little on how it might have become the phenomenon it is today.

Here's an attempt at decoding 'tequila' through an imagined sequence of events at an imagined company, set in the present day:

The 'T Company' has just received results of a consumer study and the brand manager has raised the often discussed 'burn and aftertaste' issue.

"The product just doesn't taste right unless consumed with something salty. Controlling how they consume it isn't going to be easy, we'll need to do something about the formulation."

As always, the product team is defending the formulation citing the product's historical origins.

"We can't be playing with heritage. If you want to target the fickle-minded finicky youngsters, launch a new beverage."

As always, it's a deadlock.

But this time the team finds itself asking a new question thanks to a new recruit who incidentally belongs to the 'fickle-minded finicky generation'.

"Consumer education feels too pedantic and low-leverage; messing with the formulation is too polarizing. Couldn't we just trigger an infectious meme that makes the desirable behaviour compelling?"

The group tries to dismiss their precocious colleague's unintelligible question till she pushes back.

"No, I'm serious. Let's think outside of our product. Could the best part of our product be outside of it? Say a ritual that's infectious and ensures they consume our stuff the way we want them to - after something salty and with a handy chaser to rescue them from the aftertaste?"

Enter The Tequila Cruda

In hindsight, tequila cruda, the 'lick-shoot-suck' ritual, sounds like a clever idea. Doesn't it? Moisten the back of your hand, pour on the salt and lick it off. Your mouth can't be anything but salty; down the tequila shot and before the aftertaste hits you, you have the lemon slice in your mouth. And you're ready for a repeat.

The ritual has spread like virus. People do it alone, they do it in large groups and in the process an amazing quantity of tequila gets consumed.

It is now owned by the consumers. The ritual belongs to them while the product used for performing it belongs to the industry.

The consumers love the company that introduced them to it. When tequila was in short supply thanks to an infestation that hit blue agave plantations in Mexico, people waited for it. Couldn't they have done the cruda with superior liquors? They could have, but didn't.

The worldwide collective of fans has been appropriated the role of being tequila brand managers. They have questioned and evolved the ritual constantly to keep it relevant with the changing times.

"Why should the salt be on the back of MY palm? Why shouldn't it be on HER palm?"

We now have ingenious variants of the highly infectious and compelling body shots ritual. The meme keeps gaining momentum and so does the product.

The concept of memes and memetics has evolved much beyond Richard Dawkins' original thought likening it to the selfish gene.

Memes as 'self-replicating units of cultural transmission' is an interesting thought. Why spend money in trying to sell your product? Just trigger an infectious meme that requires your product for it to be performed.

Look around, our life really is an intricate memeplex that has many sub memeplexes within it. The way we engage with the world and even with ourselves is governed by memes that we inherited, modified or even created.

Birth rituals, mate-seeking rituals and even end-of-life rituals are all memes that have made most people in the world behave in fundamentally similar ways. Isn't god the biggest man-made meme?

In the connected world that we live in today, memes spread fast and often die fast too.

Think about it - What new infectious meme can you trigger for your brand, organization or for yourself today?