Viral marketing attempts to leverage our natural tendency to share ideas with one another through communication. As a medium, we have discovered that email is a remarkably cheap and easy communication channel and distribution network. In our current obsession with biological metaphors, we call this viral marketing because the spread of a “meme” so closely resembles the spread of a virus from host organism to host organism. But are we not robbing ourselves of a deeper insight? Have we not misplaced this metaphor? Rampant and unfettered growth of biological forms egged forward by excessive sunlight and warming of the oceans is not in any way similar to the distribution and proliferation of ideas and meanings in the exercise of mental, gestural, and verbal faculties on the part of conversing human beings—in the context of reproducing a society (which occurs as a byproduct). People talk. Viruses infect. They are passed from host to host not through a process of communication, but through physical transmission. If we’re to understand how viral marketing works, we’re going to need a model of mediated human communication, not a metaphor obtained from bad science.

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