From the seedy underbelly of the internet known as 4chan to your mom’s Facebook page, memes are here to stay. Memes have been around for quite some time and are only growing in popularity as internet culture hits the mainstream. Typically, the goal behind memes is to make you laugh or to make the audience relate in some way. They are becoming such a huge factor in youth culture that even politicians are trying to get on board in order to reach them – and often failing.
With the sheer amount of popularity behind them, many business-minded individuals are asking: is it possible to make money off of memes? The answer is a resounding yes. Below are a couple examples of memes that have hit the big-time and have become money-machines as formidable as any other major intellectual property.
The famously cantankerous-looking Grumpy Cat, whose real name is ‘Tardar Sauce,’ has graced the sides of coffee mugs, shirts, and even the small screen in a straight-to video movie, aptly titled “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.” The cat’s famous sourpuss face is the direct result of dwarfism and an under-bite. According to the Wall Street Journal, Grumpy Cat made something in the ball park of “the low six-figures,” which is not too shabby for that mean-mugging tabby!
If there’s one thing that the internet loves, it’s cats doing stuff. Keyboard cat is one of the earlier memes of the internet and is about as sacred to the culture of the internet as Chris Crocker (“Leave Britney alone!”) or that Chocolate Rain guy. From his YouTube account alone, Keyboard Cat pulls in about $63,000 per year, and is still worth around $175,800!
It might also be important to mention that this video is nearly three decades old – poor Keyboard Cat died in late 1987.
You might not know his real name, but you might recognize him from his Halloween costume; but, you probably know him best from his “Hide Ya Kids, Hide Ya Wife” video on YouTube, which has over 64 million views. Even the copycat videos have millions of views, as do the auto-tuned parody remixes of the video.
How We Commodify Memes
The real beauty of memes is that they are inherently unsellable, as in, you can’t make a meme with the intent to make a profit. The entire mindset behind memes is collaborative and far from economically motivated. Most meme creators go uncredited and simply become part of the internet’s atmosphere and ever-changing dialogue. They don’t really belong to anybody, which makes them a perfect opportunity for enterprising e-commerce sites to capitalize on as most are difficult to trademark, as noted by Shopify in their 2016 meme analysis. There are examples of these sales everywhere online, like the heavily overused “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme.
Our culture is changing and trending toward creation. For the most part, we see capitalist societies as consumers, however, internet memes allow for anyone to become a producer of their own entertainment. We live in an age of crowd-sourcing and collaboration; the internet belongs to everyone and those who are willing to create, share, remix and transform.