From Evolutionary Biology to ‘Can I Haz Cheezburger?’

Internet memes can be a great addition to your social media strategy. 

Internet memes. You know, lolcats, Grumpy Cat (may she rest in peace), Nyan Cat, that sort of stuff. Lots of cats, really. Though it may not be the first thing that comes to mind, memes are serious business. Is that so? Absolutely. Internet memes can be a great addition to your social media strategy. 

But we’ll get into that later. First, let’s have a look at some basic information. What exactly is a meme?

The word ‘meme’ was first introduced by Richard Dawkins in his 1967 book The Selfish Game. He combined the word ‘memory’ with the ancient Greek ‘mimeme’, which in English means imitation. Dawkins was attempting to find a word that he could use to express the unit of cultural evolution, similar to the way our genes change during evolution. Clearly, the similarity between the words ‘gene’ and ‘meme’ is no coincidence:

We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.

Dawkins mentions various types of memes in his book, such as ideas, catchphrases, fashion, religion, rituals, music, etc. In short, many different ways for us to express our cultural identity. We store all these memes in our brains and share them amongst each other. Just think of the fashion trends we copy from magazines, for example. Or what about ‘howdy’, the way people in some states of the U.S. often say ‘how do you do?’. 

I can hear you thinking; “That’s all very well, but doesn’t that mean practically everything is a meme? You’re surely not trying to tell me that something as silly as a cat saying ‘can I has cheezburger?’ is the same as the Black Lives Matter Movement or the Beatles? And what about that whole internet memes and internet meme marketing thing?”

The Meme Machine

Well, ‘meme’ is a rather broad concept. Susan Blackmore, the author of The Meme Machine, explains how:

Everything that is passed on from person to person […] is a meme. This includes all the words in your vocabulary, the stories you know, the skills and habits you have picked up from others and the games you like to play. It includes the songs you sing and the rules you obey. 

As I said, it’s a pretty broad concept. However, internet memes are more specific, since they are online expressions that are generally shared through email and social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram. They travel quickly: some even go viral in a matter of hours. Oftentimes they only stay popular for a short amount of time, sinking into the depths of the forgotten meme abyss after a few days of beautiful glory. 

Internet memes have gained a lot of attention over the past few years. You can spend hours of your life looking at memes on websites like and (pro tip: don’t). But, mind you, internet memes are no longer the simple jokes they once were. They are becoming increasingly popular for marketing purposes. A smart strategy, I’d say, since memes seem to spread even faster than COVID-19 (too soon?). The fact that internet meme marketing is focused on humour is an additional advantage, since you’re making your audience laugh and that, of course, is a great way to get your audience to link your brand or business to positive emotions

Netflix is a joke

One of my favourite examples of internet meme marketing is the Netflix sub-account that goes by the name ‘Netflix is a joke’. Things that make this Instagram account extra special are: 1. Netflix creates the memes instead of recycling old memes. 2. The memes they post are based on their own content. A clever way of drawing a large audience’s attention to their platform.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the origin of the word ‘meme’, I strongly recommend listening to this podcast by Science Diction.

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