“Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” – Prototype for Viral Marketing

Every generation thinks they’ve invented something new when often, it’s something that’s been around for years, just no one had a name for it, or it was called something else.

Viral marketing has become almost as much of critical component of marketing as traditional marketing. If you’re not doing at least some sort of social media or viral marketing, you’re seen as an old coot. But the reality is that “viral marketing” has existed long before Mark Zuckerberg was a glimmer in his parents’ eyes. I think they used to call it “publicity”.

But how effective was viral marketing before the Internet? You need look no further than the winter holiday season. Practically everyone in the English-speaking world knows the “Jingle Bells” parody, “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”. There are a zillion variations (some that are downright bizarre), but basically it’s:

Jingle Bells, Batman smells / Robin laid an egg / Batmobile lost a wheel / the Joker got away

…and you’re welcome for the earworm!

But who originally created it? I’ve been researching this for years, even before the days of the interwebs. Many people cite its beginnings to the mid-1960s, around the time of the Adam West cheesefest (replete with “POW!”, “BLAM “and “Na na na na na na na na na Batmaaaan!”). And that’s generally what I thought for years. However, here is an annotation that traces the song’s origins back to 1939, when the first Batman comic appeared.

I imagine some kid started singing it on the playground, made all the other kids laugh, but inevitably got his — or her — knuckles rapped by the teacher (back in those days, teachers didn’t worry about getting sued by parents or inflicting psychological damage on kids). The kids on that playground went home and sang the subversive song to their siblings and other friends in the neighborhood, who sang it to their friends. And so on and so forth.

But who was that kid? Before you roll your eyes and send links to http://lmgtfy.com/, been there, done that.

Simply put, it’s a mystery for the ages, but a classic example of viral media.