Earlier this evening I was rooting through my file draw to file away some bills and random tax forms (since it just dawned on me that April 15th is rapidly approaching) and I came across a file that I hadn’t seen in a while marked simply: Funny.

Even though I’ve breezed over this file literally thousands of times, tonight I was intrigued.  I pulled it out and started leafing through it.  And what I found was a serious blast from the past.

The file was filled with printouts of old Chain Email letters from the late 90s and early 2000s.  To put this in perspective, of the 26 email addresses found on one of my printouts 11 were from AOL accounts, 11 were from Hotmail accounts, and 3 of the remaining 4 were OptOnline.net, SNET.net, and NetScape.net.  Only one early adopter was found in the mix: greenday327@yahoo.com.

As I rifled through these, it dawned on me that I was holding a piece of history.  The history of viral content.  Back in the late 90s before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even Gmail…we had the chain letter.  Even though most of us have sullied memories of chain letters thanks to that one Aunt who was convinced the threat of death was truly there if she did not forward to 15 people, these emails could come in all shapes and sizes.  In my folder alone I found the Family Lineage of Jack Schitt, a look at midlife and what it means to get older (I think that one came from my Dad), and more than a few math jokes (As you can tell I was super cool back in Junior High). I found a list of rejected State mottos, something called The Boob Poem, and what can only be a primitive draft of The Bro Code.

This was were viral content originated.  This was linkbait before there was Google.  With no real accurate way to track engagement or any tangible benefit to forwarding it along, it was really nothing more than a social dispersal of content.  This audience was using the most advanced social network of the time, email, to share content online.  Fast forward to today

I’ve copied some of the content I saved below.  Juvenile though they may be, these original content marketing “campaigns” remind us that even though the mediums and outlets may change over time, it really comes down to social sharing and understanding who your audience is and what they’re interested in.  For these examples, the audience was a teenage boy in the late 90s…so lower your expectations 🙂

All this talk of chain emails making you nostalgic? Let me know what you think in the comments below!


2 Responses to Chain Emails in the 90s: The Original Viral Linkbait

  1. Miss Capri says:

    I definitely don’t have fond memories of chain letters – of any kind. Even the least annoying among the whole lot got annoying very fast – the viral jokes and videos that several sources sent/reposted within the same day or a few days of each other. The trivia and quote lists that turned out to be at least 75% bollox. The fact that so many people wouldn’t bother emailing at all unless it was some mushy chain letter that tugged at their emotions and they sent to about 1200 “one true friends” in their address books. The urging to “spread the laughter/friendship” “brighten somebody’s day” etc, or the stronger coercive “If I don’t get this back i know you’re not my friend” stuff. Yeah, I hate chain letters, and they’ve migrated from email to FB now, especially in the form of “Like/share this if/and” statuses.

  2. BrettASnyder says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Miss Capri! I don’t think you’re alone in your distaste for the chain emails…God knows I received countless more crappy ones than the few I found entertaining. I also think you hit on a big point with the fact that people have migrated to FB for this type of sharing, though I do believe FB usage has gotten more social than these chain emails used to be and it continues to grow as a really quality way to engage on a personal level.

    Thanks again for you comments!

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