50 Viral Images (and how they spread)

Viral videos are ubiquitous – they have spread into both mainstream pop culture and corporate America. Everyone talks about developing viral videos, and there are plenty of techniques you can use to give your video the best chance of success.

But, something not talked about as frequently are viral images. Viral images predate viral videos, and have been around since the AOL and Prodigy days when there wasn’t enough bandwidth available for the everyday user to access video. Images can be spread on the web through several means, and they criss-cross back and forth between:

  • Message-boards and forums
  • Blogs
  • Emails (inter-office, personal and mass emails to all your friends)
  • Social networks
  • Basic HTML Web sites
  • Company intranets

Viral images have held on tightly and are as much a part of “Web 2.0” as they were for Web 1.0. They are popular amongst all web users for good reasons. Strong images:

  • Prove a point quickly
  • Give people a story to spread
  • Can create deep emotional connections
  • Are easily consumable, perfect for a medium that moves fast
  • Are entertaining, hilarious or compelling
  • Are easy to share

Websites like Flickr, Slide and Photobucket have made the sharing of photos and images simple for everyone and enabled people to create “lifestreams” of their daily activities through photo journals on the web. You can even configure your cell phone to automatically upload pictures you take to the web to be shared instantly.

Certainly images are one of the most popular forms of content on the web, and there is no shortage of people contributing, whether they are amazing graphics done in Photoshop or someone’s pictures from a night on the town.

With so many people contributing photos, graphics, cartoons and other kinds of images to the web, it is only natural that the most compelling of them are shared on a mass scale. Whether these images are for influence or entertainment, the new networks of the web have enabled the best content to be magnified and spread. People contributing images to the web for viral appeal do so to try to spread it as far and wide as possible, and generally want that image to be shared on as many sites as possible.

Once an image goes viral, it is nearly impossible to track – it may appear on hundreds of blogs, several social media sites, newspaper sites, emailed between users, shared on IM clients, shared via mobile devices, etc. – the possibilities are endless. Don’t expect to be able to track the metrics of a good viral image. Also, trying to control a viral image is nearly impossible – in fact, the more you attempt to censor it, the more exposure it will inevitably receive.

Let’s have a look at 50 examples of great viral images that are ultra-hilarious, compelling, entertaining, cute and overall beg to be shared. Sorry Digg and Reddit users, these probably aren’t new to you – but I feel it important to put a bunch of them in one place to try and give you some examples and inspiration on how to create great viral images.

Unfortunately due to the nature of images on the web (images being copied, posted without attribution, shared via email and public hosting services, being submitted anonymously, rexmied, etc.) it is difficult for me to give proper attribution of these images. If I posted one of your images and you’d like a link or attribution, please drop me a line and I will add that. Notice many people embed their website URL or source directly into the image. This is a smart move and is a great way to make it easy for people to share your image yet retain proper attribution.

Anyway, on with the show. Below are 50 examples of images that have gone viral. Captions added where necessary for image to make sense:

Bottled water truths revealed

This guy should have heeded the warning sign

Clichéd 80’s guy

8 bit street art

Hydrogen bomb cloud

Peyto Lake in Canada

Perfect timing…


Ultimate super-soaker collection

Lightning at sunset

Balloon tank

Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 70’s

Dare to break the rules…

Another shot taken at the perfect moment

Space station from above

You’d think someone would fix this

Nice try, Verizon

This little guy is great!

CNN putting emphasis on the most important issue of the day

When the one cup policy for your company picnic backfires

Regular vs. hi-def

How does this even happen!?

The RIAA is about to stick the lawyers

More irony


Making fun of those old motivational posters is a classic on the web



Sara can’t make up her mind

A popular image floating around message forums – the “failure” meme is a hit

Another example of the failure meme

Science wins again

Great advertising by FedEx

The RickRoll phenomenon, in picture form

One student’s progression through high school

George seems like a nice guy

Grandma’s got some spunk

Amazing shot of a guy petting a shark

Search results for “Hell” on your iPhone

A little excessive?

The LOL cat phenomenon is all over the web

Another of my favorite LOL cats

Loyal to the end

Linux vs. Windows

Imaginary numbers

Life will find a way (image credit:  Joseph Philipson)

Be sure to also check out50 Viral Images Part Two

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