A CMO Show Blog Post
Explain to me: Where do memes come from?
A CMO Show Blog Post
Explain to me: Where do...

The next time you send around a non-work-related email and wonder how much attention the network guys are paying to your email traffic, spare a thought for memetics.

Memetics is the study of the process of generation and regeneration of ideas, traditions and behaviours through human society. The term meme (rhymes with “beam”) can be traced back to biologist and science personality Richard Dawkins and his still-controversial 1976 book, The Selfish Gene.

So what are memes?

Memeticists argue that memes, like genes, are stored in human brains and passed on through observation and imitation. Like genes, memes contain a self-replicating element. The fittest are passed on from generation to generation, whereas others fall into disuse, or never catch on in the first place.

Whereas genes affect our physical and psychological make up, memes act upon our beliefs and behaviours. Genes play a major role in determining the characteristics which make us individuals, while memes play a similar role in the make-up of our culture and society.

where do memes come from
Memes replicate cultural observations and social imitations. (Source: Image via flickr.com)

According to Dawkins, memes run the gamut of cultural idiosyncrasies and include tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, art, architecture and even religion. So viral emails and Internet-based guerrilla marketing are designed to harness the power of memetic transfer.

It was about three years ago now that memes were experiencing their digital hey day. Taking the social world by storm, while some crashed and burned in matter of moments, others hinted at something further, engaging audiences in a new and innovative way – but still remarkably simply, as all great engagement tools do.

The cat craze

It didn’t take long for memes to catch on in the marketing world. In fact, according to David Sax, “properly exploited, some memes can bring in anywhere from a few thousand dollars for a single licensed broadcast of a popular video to six figures for an integrated marketing campaign based around a meme.”

Just look at Seattle-based company Cheezburger, which kickstarted a meme trend known as lolcats. Quite simply, lolcats memes consist of a funny cat picture together with a dramatic and often misspelled caption.

where do memes come from
In focus: Lolcats make fun of human characteristics.

Today, only 8 years since it was founded, Cheezburger is a multi-million dollar content network – and one of the largest social humour sites on the internet, run almost solely off user-generated content.

The grumpy cat phenomenon

For meme-lovers, there’s simply no looking past the success of Grumpy Cat. When this grumpy looking feline shot to fame in a meme posted on discussion forum site Reddit in 2012, she was just 5 months old.


where do memes come from
One of the most famous grumpy cat memes. (Source: Image via complex.com)


where do memes come from
(Source: Image via complex.com)

Since then, Grumpy Cat has become a highly successful marketing icon; she is the face of Friskies; she was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine; and she had earned her owner 99.5 million US dollars as of December 2014, according to Business Insider.

The keys to memetic success:

1. They’re digestible. 

The most effective memes I’ve seen are utterly simple and to the point. There’s no fluffing around, no big words or distracting visuals. The most effective ones communicate their message instantaneously. And I’m talking fractions of a second.

2. They’re sharable. 

Not only are they consumed easily, they’re also shared quickly. If a meme is effective, your immediate reaction is an urge to tell other people, whether it be your entire social network or one specific person who springs to mind. Sharable content should be any marketer’s and publisher’s aim, and when it comes to memes, the best of the best will go far and wide – and they’ll do it at rapid pace.

3. They’re personal

A good meme will hit home when it comes to the individual, but a great meme will strike a chord universally. You’ll take it in as if it were speaking to you and your life, and once this occurs at a large scale, you know the meme is made of magic.

where do memes come from
Relatable: The best memes will be personal to a large audience.

4. They’re humorous

There’s something beautiful about the power behind laughter, and that is its resonance; it stands out in our memories. Nearly all successful memes play on humour, tapping an engagement source often overlooked in the marketing world.

Here at Filtered HQ, we share memes about as often as we drink coffee (many, many times a day). Whether we’re celebrating success, lightening up a tough situation or sharing insight there’s almost always a meme to help us out, and if there’s not, we invent one. Which is why we’d like to invite you to do the same. Tell us what springs to mind when you see the author’s own grumpy baby photo. We think it’s just crying out for a funny caption:

where do memes come from

Leave your captions in the comment section below!

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