Memes are bite-sized comedy media popcorn consumed by everyone today. Brands of every type are embracing meme marketing today to capture precious eyeballs, says business and brand strategy expert Harish Bijoor. On average, people spend 30 minutes a day on the internet only consuming memes, according to consulting firm RedSeer.

In 2020, the ‘Rasode mein kaun tha’ meme based on a few lines from a typical saas-bahu Hindi serial that surfaced during an episode depicting a heated conversation among a few of the characters -- a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law – went viral on social media.

The meme that perhaps got exchanged through the course of numerous WhatsApp and Facebook conversations became so popular that even PIB (Press Information Bureau) Mumbai used it to promote the national nutrition month campaign and educate people about the need to add pulses to one’s regular diet. 

Memes have been slowly but steadily climbing the social ladder — what was once seen as a source of amusement; light, interactive static or moving images that people often indulge in for a swift escapade or for a breather from daily stress, are now being leveraged by brands to market products, by firms and government departments to spread awareness about varied issues. 

For consumers, memes are also fast becoming one of the avenues for gathering information. Memes that are typically built around trending topics have now become a source of knowledge for a lot of people, says Aditya Sobti, creative lead at Schbang, a creative and technology transformation company that helps brands plan marketing campaigns.

Kyle Fernandes, CEO & co-founder of meme-creating and networking platform MemeChat says that memes are becoming popular because it is the content that people are consuming. For brands, that opens up a whole new space to interact with Gen Z and millennials. “People are looking at memes, so brands want to run advertising on memes.

Memes are like reviews, like recommendations rather than ads. If I am seeing a bad meme on a product, it is like somebody is telling me not to use this product. That plays a very important psychological role in getting people to use the product. The beauty of memes is that they are inherently organic by nature. When people see a branded meme, the affinity towards that brand increases quite a bit,” says Fernandes, who founded MemeChat in 2019 as a third-year college student. Today, MemeChat claims to generate about 100,000 memes on a daily basis.

So what’s powering the meme economy? It’s a potent mix of a low-cost model and cheap labour. Unlike other industries that need to bear substantial employee expenses, memes flooding social media are mostly created by students who are more than willing to give shape to their creative ideas and monetise the same to earn just about enough for their pocket money. “There are thousands of kids sitting there wanting to make quick bucks by making memes. Professionals drawing heavy salaries are not making memes, the labour cost is cheap,” says Sobti.

Class 12 student Mrunal Patil, a verified creator with Memechat makes about 10-15 memes per day. She signed up for the platform during the lockdown, for her the biggest driver to become part of the meme culture was the ability to earn pocket money and make new friends. “I got to work on brand campaigns. Have worked with brands like Dailyhunt,” says Patil. For college fresher Dhruv Vasani, the idea of designing memes was derived from his hobby to be creative. He doesn’t mind pursuing a career in the space if he finds adequate opportunities. For each meme, MemeChat pays about ₹20-30 to its about 150,000 creators. “The better memes you create, the more money you earn,” says Fernandes.

The cheap availability of labour in many ways makes the cost of making a meme low. This low-cost economic framework, coupled with the conversational texture of memes, has pushed a lot of brands, especially the new-age ones, to subscribe to meme marketing. “It is easier for smaller brands as the cost of advertising is low,” says Sobti. Besides, to capture the wallet share of Gen Z and millennials who ride on the meme culture, D2C brands today are not even thinking about traditional ways of advertising. 

“Meme marketing is picking up and considerable money is flowing into the space. Some newer brands are allocating as much as 30%-40% of the marketing budget towards meme marketing. Broadly, on an average it stands at about 5%-10%,” says Sobti. 

MemeChat, for instance, works with brands like ShareChat, VerSe Innovation, Britannia, Amazon Prime, OnePlus, McDonald's, Burger King and Meesho. “Legacy brands like Britannia are spending lakhs on meme advertising while brands like Moj are spending crores,” says an industry executive on condition of anonymity. 

Meme advertising or ‘memevertising’, as it is called in industry parlance, is a very targeted form of advertising. Meme pages and meme apps are usually followed by people belonging to certain age groups and it is, therefore, easier to place targeted ads, unlike advertising, say on Facebook (Meta) where the ads are seen by many, including people who may not be a potential buyer, explain industry analysts. 

“Meme marketing gives you visibility at a fraction of the cost. It is very economical compared to the traditional ways of marketing. The ROI on meme marketing is crazy,” says Sobti. The moment marketing of yore is the new meme marketing of the moment. Brands of every type are embracing it today with a yen to capture the precious eyeballs, says business and brand strategy expert Harish Bijoor. “Memes are bite-sized comedy media popcorn consumed by everyone today. Therefore age no bar and caste no bar here, leave alone gender,” says Bijoor.

Although memes have been around since 2012-2013, they became popular only when young brands like Zomato started meme advertising, say experts. Typically, memes designed around news, politics and nostalgia (which can be associated with a brand like Maggi or an age-old brand that has been part of people’s childhood) work well.

“On average, we spend 30 minutes a day on the internet only consuming memes. In the last year, close to 80% have increased meme consumption,” consulting firm RedSeer said in a recent note.

Fernandes is quite gung-ho about the meme economy. “A lot of this meme content creation will be biased towards brands. This will help the creators make a livelihood,” says Fernandes.

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