Know Your Meme: All Your Base Are Belong to Us

When an evil, enigmatic villain named “CATS” threatens the very balance of the universe, a few things get lost in translation.

CATS All Your Base Are Belong to UsAccording to Knowyourmeme.com, All Your Base Are Belong to Us (AYBABTU, AYB) “is a popular catchphrase that swept across the Internet at the dawn of the 21st century, as early as in 1998.”

Origin
Zero Wing, a side-scrolling, shooting game set in space, was first introduced to arcades in 1989. The player, the lone starfighter of a “ZIG” spacecraft, would fire lasers, avoid incoming fire and maneuver through eight levels of enemy invasion.

A1 All Your Base“[The] side-scrolling space shooter might have been doomed to obscurity if not for one of the most hilarious mistranslated “Japenglish” introduction sequences in video game history,” writes Gamespy.com’s William Mistretta. “Instead, it became a nationwide fad… Perhaps the first true geek catchphrase of the new millennium.” Learn more about “Japenglish” or “Engrish” >

When porting the arcade game for play on home systems, the developers wished to expand its plot for European and U.S. audiences. Under pressure of aggressive release dates, the team roughly translated the Japanese dialogue into English, resulting in such infamous lines as “Somebody set up us the bomb,” and “All your base are belong to us… You have no chance to survive make your time!”

Zero Wing’s opening sequence:

Captain: What happen ?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you !!
CATS: How are you gentlemen !!
CATS: All your base are belong to us.
CATS: You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time.
CATS: Ha ha ha ha …
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!!
Captain: You know what you doing.
Captain: Move ‘ZIG’.
Captain: For great justice.

Before the founding of YouTube, the more creative of early digital settlers would often upload flash-based movies to Newgrounds.com, where the now famous AYB music video (below) was posted in 2001. It soon spread from inboxes to online forums, before crossing over to the real world in a variety of forms, from t-shirts to mouse pads.

Memelife: Where is CATS Now?
Haven’t seen or heard of All Your Base Are Belong to Us before? Not surprising. Digital years pass like dog years, and countless memes have forced CATS, with his broken English, from the limelight.

The meme has since evolved into an almost secret handshake, its meaning eluding most Internet users; now used a nod to early digital underground culture or as a catchphrase to  establish a semblance of digital street cred.

All Your Base TattooAll Your Base CATS IRLAll Your Base Millionaire

Learn more about All Your Base Are Belong to Us at Knowyourmeme.com >

The Hamster, A Digital Marketer’s Best Friend: Hampsterdance (1998)

Note: The views expressed on this blog are my own, and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer, its management, shareholders or employees.

HampsterdanceRewind to the mid-to-late 90s, just before the dot-com bubble burst, when Internet cafés had viable business models and video gaming went polygonal. The golden days of Quake 2 and birth of Starcraft, when early online settlers and squatters spent hours basking in the glow of low resolution computer monitors.

Living in Tampa, Fla. at the time, I attended a rather controversial religious institute (long story), and began my life as a part-time marketer, working with the non-profit and small business community.

Although I rocked a Pentium Pro PC at home, I would often find myself at a local Internet café, where I sipped exotic coffee alongside proto-citizens of the developing digital world.

For me, the shop served as a safe haven for other solar-deprived “nerds” I had come to identify with and love. Though we sat in silence, physically a few feet from one another, the experiences we shared together were legendary… Well, aside from the creepsters who were downloading porn at a snail’s pace in a public setting.

Legendary… We were helping create a new culture; one with our own language, values, heroes, myths and norms. I’d “surf the Information Superhighway” through Metacrawler and Altavista for hours, and check e-mail through my BBS accounts or Hotmail.

One day, my eldest sister forwarded a link for particularly quirky website, which I promptly shared with my online friends. And, 14 years later, I present to you Hampsterdance – essentially a cave painting from the early, “popular” Internet. Visit a replica of the original Hampsterdance website >

Hampster DanceDigital-Specific Content Generation: A Meme is Born
The story, according to Wikipedia: Deidre LaCarte, a Canadian art student, developed Hampsterdance in August 1998 as part of a personal competition between her sister and best friend. The challenge? Who could generate the most traffic/views. Sound familiar, digital marketers? Exactly.

Originally paying homage to her pet hamster, Hampton Hampster, the site featured animated hamsters and rodents, accompanied by a high-pitch version of “Whistle Stop” from Disney’s Robin Hood cartoon, which looped indefinitely on screen (and in my head for years to come).

For about half a year, the site attracted around 4 visitors each day. But, in January 1999, Hampsterdance “went viral,” spreading through e-mails, chat rooms and early blogs. And, let’s not forget setting a friend or coworker’s browser homepage to the site. Featured in news reports and a television ad, Hampsterdance became a pop culture phenomenon.  Watch the Earthlink Television Commercial > Then, as most memes do, multiple derivatives followed. Several Hampsterdance songs were recorded, becoming minor hits in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Cute & Fuzzy Rodents for Modern Marketers
For most modern marketers, it’s quite a stretch to believe that dancing hamsters or fluffy bunnies can resonate with target audiences. Or is it?

Read the article: “Kia Rolls Home with Nielsen’s Top Auto Ad Award” >

Did Kia and its creative agency study digital archeology to unearth a piece of cultural history? Perhaps.

A few points to consider for Hamster-loving digital marketers:

  1. People “speak” a different language online, through both text/words and measurable behaviors.
  2. The digital world is home to a pantheon of online heroes, oftentimes hilarious exhibitors of epic myths and sharable stories.
  3. Digicultural norms and expectations tend to determine what type of content is shared between friends and social networks, whether the point of origin is traditional (television) or entirely digital.
  4. When developing content, it’s important to consider digital anthropology: how has a particular online community evolved over time.
  5. Truly understand the differences between your target’s online and offline needs, wants and desires – which are, more often than not, not directly related to your product or service.

Watch the original Kia hamster ad on YouTube >