BFM @ Masterclassing: Meme Culture




an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation. 

a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users. 

The first-ever meme:  

Memes are more than just a picture with a funny caption. It would be wrong to say that memes are not one of the most powerful tools of communication that this generation has to offer. There is a strong appeal about memes that makes us feel like we are a part of a larger group but still holding on to our sense of individuality. 

In Marcinuks’ presentation, he notes that the word derives from the Greek root “mim” like mime or mimic. The first-ever use of the word meme was by English author Richard Dawkins 1976 in his book “The Selfish Gene.” He used the word as an attempt to explain the way cultural information spreads. It wasn’t until 1993 where Mike Dawson proposed the idea of the Internet Meme in an issue of the Wired magazine.  

If you look at this Google Trends graph, you can see that the word meme did not initially take off until 2012. In fact, in 2016, meme surpassed Jesus as the most searched word. 

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The internet meme is a concept or idea that spreads virally from one person to another, via the Internet. A meme is both a type of content and a piece of content, that is made to be circulated and transformed but still refer to each other in the original context. A meme cannot be a single image but must be copied and spread with variations to the original image.   

first ever meme

This 97-year-old comic strip image is the first-ever recorded “meme”, coming from the Judge which was a magazine published by the University of Iowa. The cartoon image is also suspected to be the first use of the highly popular “Expectation vs Reality” trend. Which makes us ask the question, what makes a meme go viral in the first place?  

Attributes of a successful meme  

Not every picture with a caption or video goes viral. There are many different attributes as to why and how a meme can generate viral success. While meme culture might be one of the most rampant trends over the past years, we should take the time to look at the commonalities of a successful and viral meme. In Marcinuk’s presentation, he clearly defined the six key targets one must meet for a meme to generate success.  

  •  Human originated – The meme begins with an individual and not with a brand marketer  
  • Culturally relevant – Captures the present, features popular culture, entertainment, and politics 
  • Socially validating – Appeals to and validates shared feelings and memories   
  • Emotionally arousing – Taps into humor, anger, desire or controversy  
  • Inviting to edit – Easily manipulated in message and imagery  
  • Community perpetuated – Spread by audiences in their native social platforms  

The success of a meme is generally defined by its virality, how rapidly it can circulate and gain popularity.  A quality viral meme derives its meaning to a susceptible time and location. Touching on the culturally relevant point, a good meme must include references that are interesting and relevant to people. Social validation is also a major key (enter DJ Khaled) when it comes to the quality success of a meme.  

In an era of distrust, it’s important to cultivate social validation and make people feel as involved as possible. When it comes to marketers, social validation whether it be through direct marketing or social media will inevitably increase the trust people have in your brand which therefore makes consumers more comfortable engaging and doing business with your brand.  

Drinks White Claw Once  

At the start of the summer popular Youtuber Trevor Wallace created a video “Drinks White Claw Once”. The video quickly became an internet sensation generating over 3.7 million views, becoming one of the most virally spread pieces of content throughout the summer. Most famous quotes included: “Aint no laws when you’re drinking claws”, “you claw?” and “white claw summer 2019”.  The video quickly spread with people resharing, tweeting quotes and memes from the parody video.  

white claw trends

By September, White Claw sales had increased by an astronomical 250%. There was a clear and direct correlation between the success of the brand over the summer and the spread of viral content. Awareness had skyrocketed among Millennials and Gen Z’ers but specifically among young men. It’s important to note that the White Claw brand did not insert itself directly into the conversation. They chose not to adjust their consumer-facing marketing to adopt the meme but were more than open to retweet or embrace viral content.  

The takeaway  

For marketers today, it’s important to realize now how important memes will become to a digital marketing strategy in the near future. Marketers are in the very early stages of owning a space in meme culture but the best way for a brand to reap benefits from meme culture is to let a current trend playout. Content creators and marketers are soon to build meme-worthy moments into branded content.