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The Psychology Behind Why Memes Are so Marketable and Popular

Richard Fang

Memes have been around for decades and now used for marketing
NIPYATA! / Unsplash

Recently, Zoë Roth, who was the kid in the ‘disaster girl’ meme, sold it as an NFT for half a million dollars. With the rise of both memes and NFTs in recent years, it has become a factor of life that these two concepts are here to stay and ironically go hand in hand.

We have seen many popular videos and photos since gone up on NFT platforms to sell for big bucks. These originators might have been famous from one piece of media but have finally gotten a chance to profit from them after years of being ‘meme’d.’

But why are memes so marketable and popular?

We’ve already seen how fast memes can catch on, especially with the network effect and word of mouth. If these can sell for half a million dollars, it showcases that a simple picture could be used to gather a massive audience in a matter of days or weeks over an extended period of time, like a year or more.

After all, some big corporates are now creating their own memes to impress the wider and general audience to capitalize on this trend.

However, what characteristics make memes both marketable and so entrancing to the general public?

Memes are easily shareable — they don’t feel intrusive

Unfortunately, normal brand marketing is usually just boring.

No one wants to see branded marketing content on their social medial feed, and it’s no wonder this content usually has low engagement.

In today’s day of age, we can smell promotions from a mile away, and we tend to tune it out once we realize that.
Gfuel / Instagram

However, for memes, even if users know it’s a promotion since it’s both relatable and funny, we still share it, especially if done well. For example, G-fuel energy is a brand that purposely uses memes for their entire Instagram social media profile.

This brings super high engagement and attracts a larger user base (especially with the abundance of modern-day social media platforms). Memes feel less intrusive to the everyday person and feel relatable versus other forms of media.

People are more likely to share videos, research suggests, when they elicit a strong emotional reaction, such as being extremely funny, angering, or disgusting.

Put it this way, would you rather share a relatable meme with your friend or a 500-word article explaining why G-fuel is the best energy sports drink.

Memes induce emotion and are easily digestible

Due to how memes work, it’s tough to analyze them in specific detail to conclude why memes are so effective on a psychological level.

Unlike many other things, quality is not the reason why a meme is so popular and marketable. Rather it is the arousal of emotion that could be both negative or positive that drives the popularity of memes.

According to psychology today, memes are easily spread due to:

  • Its accompaniment with an image (or media)
  • It is seen repeatedly
  • Consumers do not need to critically think about the meme

Basically, to summarize, if a meme produces a high amount of emotion for the consumer, such as being funny and easily digestible, it is more likely to be shared with the general public.

A meme that produces high-arousal emotion, whether negative or positive, tends to be shared with greater frequency. — Psychology Today

To put it another way, marketing is the action of promoting and selling goods and services, and the best campaigns usually produce a high level of emotion from the user.

This is precisely what memes can do, making them so marketable as a medium of communication, and we usually don’t even notice it.

Memes evolve with every generation

According to psychology today, there’s an argument memes evolve via ‘natural selection.’ That is, less successful memes become a thing of the past, with newer and more relevant memes becoming the topic of today.

Of course, this may sound weird on paper, but in reality, we know memes come and go depending on what consumers expect.

This makes them relevant with the times as these ideas are passed on via each generation. In return, this makes them more marketable as they adjust with current culture and society norms, making them sticky and malleable.

Bonus: Memes are easy to make

Marketing campaigns can range from $0 to millions. The higher the production cost of it, the more it could eat into your budget. This is especially the case if you need a graphic designer or other staff to come into the mix to help create whatever needs to be produced.

For our company, we spent nearly close to six figures on three videos with multiple crew and staff to help film and then mash it up on an editor.

For memes, however, there are simple to make.

With many memes out there, there are plenty of templates already that exist that are easily recognizable. The only work is to think of the text that goes along with it. Even with the image above, you can see how easy it is to make a meme within a minute.

In my opinion, memes are one of the lowest cost and effort mediums to produce with one of the highest potential returns.

Final Note

Memes have started to explode in popularity in the last decade. With many social media platforms out there, it has never been so easy to share memes across different networks with friends, family, and even strangers.

We live in a time where we can joke about topics that positively and negatively induce emotions out of us. This is why memes have become so marketable, after all, marketing is the process of creating these emotions in the first place.

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Editor at CornerTech and Marketing @richardfliu on Twitter


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