May 27, 2009— -- Six months ago, Brian Govern, a student at Rutgers University, penned a satirical comment about a T-shirt on Amazon.com.
"I was searching for a book for school and the Amazon recommendation system suggested I might like the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt," said Govern. "It was just a completely serendipitous one-time thing. I just got the urge and thought it would be funny."
"Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women," he wrote, adding an anecdote about how, the first time he sported the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt to Walmart, women suddenly started flocking to him.
But the truth is, he doesn't even own the shirt.
His posting caught the eye of the editors of collegehumor.com, whose readers added their own comic reviews. So far, more than 750 people have posted their comments about the T-shirt on Amazon, each one more outlandish than the last.
"You don't put this T-shirt on your torso, you put it on your soul," one reviewer wrote.
Some claimed it cured cancer. Others said that it led them to new insights on a vision quest.
One person complained, "Wolves would be better if they glowed in the dark."
There's now even a YouTube video, produced by a Brooklyn comedy troupe, mashing up the outlandish reviews with music by Pocohontos and lyrics by reviewers at Amazon.com.
The Three Wolf Moon shirt isn't new. It's been on sale for a couple of years. But since the viral thread took off this month, sales went through the roof. It's currently selling more than 100 an hour, and it's the No. 1 seller in Amazon's apparel line.
"I think what we're looking at is a population with tremendous creativity," said author Douglas Rushkoff. "We're all writers, we're all thinkers, we're all storytellers. And really, what we're looking for are gathering places, places to share our humor and our imagination with each other."
Shirt Manufacturer Cashes in on Humor
The T-shirts are produced by a small company called The Mountain, based in New Hampshire. It is thrilled with the shirt's success and most likely will halt the production of its 500 other designs to focus solely on producing more Three Wolf Moon shirts.
Company officials figure they can produce about 30,000 shirts in an eight-hour shift, and at that rate, they're selling as fast as they make them.
"I feel this will be in the history books of marketing," said Michael McGloin, creative director of The Mountain. "People will be trying to duplicate it. It's just out of control."
But it would be tough to duplicate, because it seems to be a grass roots phenomenon.
"Real viral media is this spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm by real people for something," said Rushkoff. "On the Internet, you have millions of people trying to connect to other people. ... And the easiest way to do that is by humor."
In this instance, Three Wolf Moon is the butt of the joke. But the T-shirt's manufacturer is howling all the way to the bank.