I Dream of Memes.

June 4, 2021

I Dream of Memes.

May 29, 2023

Chip’s note: Massey offered such a joyous, curious energy during his Sabbatical Session stay at MEA. While this guest post doesn’t necessarily fit the normal Wisdom Well topics, it does offer a window into why we keep seeing names like GameStop and Dogecoin in the news. If you want to understand how the “king of memes,” Elon Musk uses this communication tool to his advantage, read on.

Lastly, many social observers have suggested younger entrepreneurs see the economy as akin to a trampoline as opposed to a ladder and memes can be a productive tool in unlocking this trampoline economy.

By any stretch of the definition of “Elder” (even a modern one), I fall a bit short at 26. That’s why I was extremely humbled and honored when MEA co-founder Jeff Hamaoui asked me to write a Wisdom Well guest post.

We had been having one of the many fascinating discussions that you find exclusively at MEA dining tables. What behooved my mother to bring me on her fourth trip to the MEA campus, much less bring up memes, I’ll never know. During our classic Thursday SabSesh Pizza Night, my mother mentioned that I should focus on memes for this guest post so here we go.

Despite being selected for multiple awards in physics and entrepreneurship, my real passion is sociological. I love memes, I study them, from how they impact an individual, to how they can be used by businesses, to how they impact culture on a societal level. To understand modern mass communication, you have to understand the concept of a “meme.”

We often think of memes as those silly little pictures of minions that our crazy aunt (or sister) posts on Facebook. However, the famed geneticist and philosopher Richard Dawkins first proposed memes to be “the cultural equivalent to genes” back in 1976. Fundamentally, memes are popular ideas that are shared from person to person, mutating over time. The more valuable and relevant ideas continue to survive and mutate further, while less valuable versions struggle to take off and die. These “memes” can include everything from aesthetic preferences, to rumors about a coworker, to depictions in 18th-century Japanese wood carvings.

Though most memes don’t go mainstream and tend to stick within the cultures and communities they originate, they can occasionally make headline news. Think of the viral (pardon the pun) conspiracies about the Coronavirus in early 2020, or the “stonks” meme where retail investors drove up the price of Gamestop stock 20x in a few weeks.

Memes don’t have to contain humor (such as gossip about a coworker), nevertheless, humor is a great way to drive people to share content and ideas. This is because humor is one of the ways we identify members of our tribe (or of one of the many tribes that we belong to). Meme influencers have taken it a step further by finding the Venn Diagram made up of internet culture and a brand and creating content that broadens the overlap.

Though most memes spawn organically, memes can be engineered outright or at least steered with adequate resources and intuition.

Tips for creating a successful brand meme campaign:

1. Have a clear objective - Do you want downloads, sales, votes, cultural converts, brand recognition, etc.?

2. Know your audience, or find people that do - What do they value and talk about? How has that changed over time?

3. Work with influencers in the community to create a concept that is easy for other creators to latch on to and further “riff on the joke” - what is the core perspective of the joke and how does it relate (often tangentially) to your brand?

4. Circle back after the first wave and drive the objective - How can your influencers make more content around the meme while also naturally including a “Call to Action?”

5. Don’t be cheap or “test it” - Getting free influencer-generated content for your brand is the holy grail of marketing. Creators typically need to see something 3-7 times before they feel it’s popular enough that their followers will relate to it.

Cautionary Tale

In the 2020 Democratic primary, Mike Bloomberg wanted to go viral with younger voters. His campaign worked with meme pages to try and create and post “funny” images and videos with text (“memes”). However, since much of the community already had preconceived notions of who he was, it came across as really fake and that he was just trying to buy likeability. So, the original viral idea of "haha Bloomberg is a funny guy” the campaign wanted to trend failed to take off. Instead, what started to go around the internet was “lol...Bloomberg tried to buy his way to being funny but failed...lol.” This failure of understanding his audience is one of the reasons Bloomberg ended up paying 344x what Biden did per vote based upon his marketing spend.


Massey Branscomb is a published scientist and the CEO of gethr, an influencer marketing tech startup that uses AI to curate and promote music for live streaming influencers. He’s also the President of IGCA, an influencer marketing agency with 30M followers worth of creators that specialize in creating viral trends for brands.

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