A “meme” is a catchphrase, idea, hashtag, cultural symbol media (image, video, etc.) that spreads quickly from person to person via the internet. While the popularity of memes exploded with the rise of forums and social media, the word meme was coined in 1976 on the book “The Selfish Gene” by author/biologist Richard Dawkins, as he explained how cultural ideas and memories spreads.
By late 90s, with the help of online forum members of 4chan and Reddit, memes have become part of the internet culture.
Memes mostly include an element of humor, but it can also have shock value or have themes like drama, urban myths, psychological/philosophical ideas, and more. The most popular examples of memes include:
- Photos – Photos of passive-aggressive stick figure “Be Like Bill” & Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce) have been around for several years and continue to be one of the most-shared photo memes.
- Videos – Absurd songs like “What Does the Fox Say” about what a fox’s animal sound should be and the charmingly dorky “Gangnam Style” are great examples of video memes.
- Animated GIFs – If you’ve been active in the web around the late 90s, you’ve probably seen the dancing baby gif called “baby cha-cha.” This is the first viral internet meme in recent history.
- Websites – The earliest example of a meme site is the Geocities site filled with dancing hamster GIFs, which launched in late 1997 as a homage to creator Deidre LaCarte’s hamster named Hampton. The site and the dancing hamsters are still live to this day. Now found at www.hampsterdance.com with a viral song that landed radio charts in several countries.
- Songs – The annoying, but highly last-song-syndrome-inducing “Friday” by teen YouTuber Rebecca Black was hated by many people in 2011, but Black earned $1.4 million because of it.
- Expressions – Statements like Paris Hilton’s “That’s Hot” can also be considered as memes
If you think you’d be an awesome meme-maker, but don’t know where to start in monetizing this modern skill, read on for some of the most common methods of cashing in.
Blog Route: Ads, Traffic and Passive Income
The key to a successful meme is a huge following, since this following will be your weapon in spreading a meme. Whether you’re most active on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, this statement holds true. As such, you can’t just dive into the world of meme-money-making, unless of course, you already have a massive audience.
If this is the case, your best bet is to create a blog, preferably on photo-blogging site Tumblr, publish your memes as you make them, and use ad networks like Google AdSense to earn passive income. You’d have to perform some marketing techniques to bring traffic to your site, either by free social media sharing, or using paid ads and services.
Note that you won’t be raking in big bucks with this method, but at least your effort in crafting memes and building enough following can lead to some profits.
YouTube and its Unlimited Potential
Video memes would work better with YouTube. Like other social media networks, YouTube videos are easy to share and spread like wildfire.
The easiest way to monetize video memes is to apply for the video-sharing platform’s YouTube Partner Program and monetize your channel with Adsense. (Your channel needs 10k views before you could apply for YouTube monetization though).
Grumpy Cat earns somewhere from $2k to $20k from YouTube alone. What’s interesting is that this amount isn’t even half of what this feline and her owner Tabatha Bundesen are actually making. The Washington Post estimates that Grumpy Cat earns six-figures from her Friskies sponsorship, book deal, Lifetime movie “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” and a widely successful merchandising business.
Influencers & Brand Sponsorships
Once you’ve gotten enough following to become an “influencer,” brands would automatically flock your way, especially if the category of memes you develop align with a company’s business goals. Many companies take advantage of social media and its potential to reach a wider audience, and if you’re lucky to be chosen, you could land sponsorships or be paid to post memes relevant to their business.
Your creativity is the only thing that would hinder you from monetizing memes. In fact, some people who lack the creative bone (such as girlwithnojob and thefatjeweish) even build huge meme accounts, share memes made by other people, and eventually land projects or work creating memes.
Here’s a true story of capitalizing on memes. The original song of LA-based deep-voiced singer Tay Zonday (real name Adam Nyerere Bahner) entitled “Chocolate Rain” went viral in July 2007. He initially made money through video ads and a promo song for Dr. Pepper called “Cherry Chocolate Rain.” When the fame died down, his earnings didn’t. Today, he still makes a sizable monthly income from ringtone and music sales. The most interesting part of this story is that the song, which is super-catchy, isn’t even a parody – it’s a song about racism.
Meme-Making Career: Craft Corporate Memes or Get an 8-to-5 New Media Job
There’s two ways to do this: either you wait for a company to hire you for a meme-making project, or find a new media job and work at the office from 8 to 5. Many companies are hiring skilled people with a healthy dose of humor, pop culture knowledge, and advanced internet skills to handle new media marketing. Dank meme making is often listed as one of the responsibilities of a new media professional.
In some cases, companies opt for authenticity and hire professional meme-makers for the job. Such is the case for Gucci’s highly-successful Instagram-based campaign titled #TFWGucci (“That Feel When Gucci”). This collaborative project was commissioned to multiple Instagram influencers, including decorhardcore, thedrawingdoor, and youvegotnomale (real name Sebastian Tribbie Matheson), who said he got paid $2,000 for the starter meme pack he created for Gucci.
Get Inspired: Create Real Products Based on Memes
Ideal for the crafters, this route of making money through memes can just be your thing. Many people take inspiration from memes that have gone viral with handmade products they sell over at Etsy. Take Etsy seller Memeskins for example, who sells “dat boi frog” themed knickknacks and other pop culture-referencing products successfully.
The Bottom Line
Who would’ve thought that these charming, annoying, hilarious, philosophical, passive-aggressive, or sometimes thought-provoking memes could actually lead to a career, monthly income, or huge sponsorship deals?
The rise in social media and globalization has turned memes into a massive communication tool by people of all generations and cultures from all walks of life. And brands have started to notice too. So if you feel this niche best fits your skills and personality, it’s never too late to try and cash in from the unlimited opportunities meme-making has to offer.