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Why memes make millions
If your company isn't thinking of how to use memes/humor as part of their social strategy, today is a good day to start
Note from Adam: Today’s post is a chapter from my internet friend Jason Levin’s upcoming book Memes Make Millions he wanted to share with Hot Takes readers as a fan of my community here. Jason is a writer and self-described ‘memelord’ for startups and venture capital firms. You can subscribe to his newsletter here, it’s free. Memes have an obvious place in culture and marketing to share ideas, and Jason has had great success personally here and bases much of his work on memes. There will be many people like this in the future, so if you haven’t started understanding the meme-verse today is as good a day as any to begin.
“Meme the change you wish to see in the world” - Jack Butcher, Tweet
“Most businesses get zero distribution channels to work: poor sales rather than bad product is the most common cause of failure. If you can get just one distribution channel to work, you have a great business.” - Peter Thiel, Zero to One
In the world of no-code apps and website builders, it’s increasingly easy to launch a product into the world. At the same time, in a world where everyone is making content, it’s increasingly hard to get your products the attention they deserve.
Enter meme marketing.
Companies have been doing humor-based marketing for hundreds of years. We’ve all seen funny advertisements during the Super Bowl, on billboards, or whatever — memes are just the latest form of humor-based marketing. While not everyone has the budget, skills, or team to make a viral video or billboard, practically anyone can make memes.
See, the word “meme” was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene to mean a “self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.” Some decades later, the word gained more traction with a different meaning. Today, “memes” are commonly known as goofy viral JPEGs, which replicate across the internet and are simple explanations of human behavior and culture.
To many though, memes became much more than that. In the tech world, people see almost any symbol with common shared meaning to be considered a meme. The American Flag is a meme. The Nike symbol is a meme. The swastika is a meme.
While pictures speak a thousand words, memes speak a million — and they do it fast. It takes minutes to read an article, but only seconds to understand a meme. You either get it or you don’t. If the meme captures the zeitgeist effectively and spreads a little bit, then people share it again and again. It is often remixed and turned into other things. This can be true of Bad Luck Brian or the Swastika.
To be a meme marketer, you don’t need to invent a fancy symbol or even take the original picture that becomes a meme. You just need to be an expert at the online zeitgeist. How do you do that? You certainly don’t pay $60,000/year to study Philosophy of Internet Culture at Princeton or wherever. I’m a college dropout and I’m doing just fine.
Instead, you just need to spend a shitload of time on social media and tune into the conversation. While every parent, teacher, and government office is telling you to get off of social media, I’m here to tell you the opposite. There’s a tremendous amount of money to be made if you’re a very funny, very online person.
500 years ago, the funniest person in a medieval town would become the King’s jester. It’d be quite the honor, but if they tell a joke the king doesn’t like, then it’s off with their head. Now, I can tweet a joke that gets 15 million views and makes me money all from the comfort of my toilet. We live in the best time in history to be funny. You can make people laugh at scale. And as any entrepreneur knows, scale means profit.
Bonus: for further takes on memes, listen to Adam interview Trung Phan on a recent podcast podcast episode where they talk meme marketing.