SAGNIK DUTTA, a 23-year-old techie from Burdwan — a small town in West Bengal, spends hours scrolling meme pages on Facebook and Instagram. “I like how memes capture topical issues in a humorous way. For instance, every time an iPhone is launched, social media gets flooded with memes around pricing,” she says.
Dutta is among scores of Gen Z and millennials who use memes for their daily dose of humour amid busy work schedules. Their average time spent watching memes, says consulting firm RedSeer, is about 30 minutes a day. That’s why brands, especially new-age ones such as Zepto, Dunzo and Spotify, are increasingly depending on memes to market their products and services. “Meme marketing is a low-cost method to appeal to a large audience. Popularity of memes means creative ads in this category get high engagement compared with usual brand content. At Dunzo, we’ve seen many of our simplest memes getting more audience interaction than fanciest of adverts,” says Tanveer Khan, general manager, brand & marketing, Dunzo.
The market is big. MemeChat, one of the largest homegrown meme creation and networking platforms, generates about 1,00,000 memes in a day. “A lot of people spend time and effort to create memes. Social media allows everyone to try their hands at content creation. This has paved the way for the rise of meme creation apps and platforms,” says a RedSeer note.
Brands say the biggest advantage of memes is that they market themselves due to high shareability. “Memes are engaging and entertaining. They are the quickest form of dopamine hitting you. There’s a pull from the user,” says Neha Ahuja, head of marketing, Spotify.
It’s not just about brands creating memes. Often, significant developments give memes their own life, giving brands an unexpected push. For instance, when Zomato made a stunning D-street debut last year, social media was inundated with memes featuring Swiggy, the most popular being, “main bahut peeche reh gaya na?” (I got left behind, right?).
Besides, creating memes is easy, enabling brands to capitalise on events in real time, says Amritansu Nanda, chief marketing officer, Zepto. “Not only are memes highly relevant for Zepto’s young ‘digital native’ audience, they also lend themselves perfectly to a mass-segment like groceries. On Instagram, in particular, we have seen some solid engagement by capturing themes such as corporate life, Mondays, pay days or trending Bollywood references about daily essentials,” says Nanda.
OTT firm MX Player has also been deploying memes across big social media pages to promote its shows. “An example is the Kaand vs Kalakaar template that was floated to promote our show Matsya Kaand,” says head of marketing Sandeep Das. Since memes are funny, engaging and relatable, they get more reach than other promotional content, says Das. Neel Gogia, co-founder, IPLIX Media & Layers, says memes have higher chances of getting shared on social media than regular content, apart from having higher retention than short videos. “Branded social media pages are struggling to get engagement. That’s why various new-age brands have started integrating memes in their social media pages,” says Gogia.
Memes also cost way less than traditional advertising. This is because creators are not white-collar employees drawing big salaries. Most memes are created by high school and college students who are more than happy to earn a few thousand rupees per month while exploring their creative talent. Meme creating and networking platform MemeChat, for instance, pays ₹20-30 to its 1,50,000 creators for each meme that they generate. “Meme marketing gives you visibility at a fraction of the cost of other modes of advertising. The ROI is crazy,” says Aditya Sobti, creative lead at Schbang — a creative and technology transformation company that provides marketing solutions. Also, memes can be produced quickly. “As audience shares memes themselves, they have a wider reach than promotional content, which has costs for creation and then for distribution,” says Das. Compared to traditional mediums, online/social media is far less expensive if a company has a talented meme creator. “Memes are an immensely powerful tool for driving traffic,” says Abhirup Datta, head, AVOD (advertising-based video on demand), ZEE5 India. Also, meme pages and apps are usually followed by people belonging to certain age groups, which makes it easier for companies to place targeted ads unlike advertising on, say, Facebook (Meta), where the ads are seen by people from all age groups, say industry analysts. Some newer brands are allocating as much as 30-40% of their marketing budgets for meme marketing. “Broadly, on an average, it stands at 5-10%,” says Sobti. MemeChat, for instance, works with brands like ShareChat, VerSe Innovation, Britannia, Amazon Prime, OnePlus, McDonalds, Burger King and Meesho. “For Dunzo, the budget for meme marketing is around 5% of its total (ad) budget, with exact allocation depending on the campaign. It looks like we will soon see a steep increase in share of meme marketing in brand budgets across industries,” says Khan.
One of the problems with meme marketing is that there are no means for a brand to determine if a campaign has delivered tangible results in terms of conversion into sales. “When it comes to measurement, brands have to be very clear on the expected outcome. For our clients, we have tracked engagement and affinity driven via memes. However, it’s very difficult to measure absolute business impact in terms of revenue," says Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO & co-founder, TheSmallBigIdea — a full-services digital agency. “We need to be careful as we can’t measure the impact,” says Spotify’s Ahuja.
Apart from this, while memes run high and fast on social media, the virality can often be negative. “Had Ashneer Grover’s doglapan meme not gone viral, BharatPe’s corporate troubles wouldn’t have garnered so much attention; such things, after all, are not new at start-ups. He had become a popular figure, the media was so interested. A brand has to sit and measure if the virality of a meme has created business impact or not,” says an industry executive on condition of anonymity.