Since 2016, the internet has cared more about memes than about Jesus. According to Google Trends, memes have surpassed Christ in online popularity, and the meme’s cultural relevance doesn’t look to be waning anytime soon.
We live in a day and age where you can literally make a living from making memes. And why not? The meme is charmingly moronic by its very architecture. The alchemy is simple: pair the right culturally relevant image with a witty caption, and this curiously addictive visual trope will quickly evolve into a viral juggernaut. Memes are treasure troves for social media engagement because they rely on just one human emotion that we all possess: humor.
Earlier this year, Gucci set the internet ablaze by launching its first meme-based Instagram campaign titled #TFWGucci. While many devotees heralded the campaign as the grizzly death of meme culture, for marketing teams everywhere the campaign proved how the meme remains a largely untapped resource to cannibalize within our attention economy.
Why was the Gucci campaign so successful? The brand managed to authentically insert themselves into the pop culture conversation by actually working directly with credible meme-makers, alongside artists, writers, and photographers. All of whom have gained cult online followings for their dank meme sorcery, online personalities, and respective artistic niches.
One particular meme-maker tapped by Gucci, Sebastian Tribbie, is behind the account @Youvegotnomale (his ever-growing following currently sits around the 44k mark). Despite being approached by a luxury beast like Gucci for his meme wizardry, Tribbie still outright refuses to do sponsored posts on his own account, but he will happily lend his memecraft to brands who approach him for the right fee.
Sebastian confirms that crafting corporate memes can be very a lucrative art form, though."I get paid $2,000 for a starter pack for a bigger company but like, if I'm helping a friend or like an indie artist, I will adjust the price to fit their budget because I can make them so quickly," he tells Highsnobiety via email. "I've never done one sponsored meme post and I refuse to. It's not my brand since I literally make memes as my career, and my followers would turn on me lol."
So, how did Sebastian get his start in making memes for money? “The first meme I got money for was for a food company," he told VICE. "A marketing executive approached me in a DM. It was a play on the You vs the girl he told you not to worry about meme. They loved it. I think it ran overseas. I never saw it, but I got paid so I don't care. Once I hit 30k, that's when the brands really started running. I actually got approached by an athletic brand, which is insane. Like, do you know my brand? I've never been to a gym in my life."
It goes to show that the traditional influencer marketing strategy of brands courting influencers that “fit” their brand is on its way out. Now, many brands are willing to sacrifice their “aesthetic” or “tone of voice” for a slice of the pop-cultural conversation by working with online personalities that don’t typically match their image.
So, could the meme’s dizzying rise mean that Instagram’s most popular meme-makers could go ahead and dethrone all of those impeccably manicured Instagram influencers that we constantly smash with the double-tap? Traditionally, brands have paid these young, painfully good-looking twenty-somethings obscene amounts of money to wear expensive clothes in sponsored posts that effortlessly blur into our feeds.
The fashion industry supposedly spends more than a $1 billion per year on sponsored Instagram posts. Style blogger Danielle Bernstein, behind the account WeWoreWhat, told Harper's Bazaar last year that she makes $5,000 to $15,000 from sponsored Instagram posts. And in May, Digiday reported that deals with big YouTube personalities like Casey Neistat can cost $300,000 to $500,000. It’s always been about producing ads that don’t look quite like ads. But as demonstrated by Gucci, perhaps it's now all about producing ads that look like memes?
Hélène Heath, senior editor at Dash Hudson, a New York-based visual intelligence platform agrees that memes can equal big money. “Meme accounts already are social media influencers! And there's no reason why this shouldn't continue to grow. @thefatjewish is probably the most famous, and also the OG purveyor of the memes-as-a-business model."
"Accounts like @FuckJerry, @beigecardican, and @girlwithnojob, to name a few, run sponsored content all the time. Even brands that employ memes as their sole content strategy, like @betches, post native sponsored content,” says Hélène.
So, how much are the top-tier meme-makers raking in when it comes to lending their meme-based services to brands? Well, AdWeek reported that FuckJerry makes a staggering $30,000 per sponsored meme post.
With a following of more than 11 million, Elliot Tebele, the 26-year-old meme-maker behind the account, has become something of a meme-based media mogul. According to Forbes, the FuckJerry Instagram account alone is set to make $1.5 million to $3 million in revenue over the next 12 months.
How, exactly? Well, on top of their $30k free per post, Tebele and his team charge a “CPF” or cost per follower, which is generally around $1, but varies on the brand and type of engagement. In theory, that would mean Tebele should be charging $11 million per post, but it's clear his team have more grounded expectations, projecting around $2 million in sales over the next 12 months.
Yet, these are still vast sums of money that have essentially allowed Tebele to turn his meme-making into a fully fledged franchise, counting more than 40 million followers across multiple social channels, a clothing line, a card game, a late-night TV show pilot with MTV as well as his own social media agency called Jerry Media.
Similarly, the Financial Times’ interview with the TheFatJewish claims he gets more than $6,000 to simply mention a brand in a post and a hell of a lot more to attend their events, all on top of numerous endorsement deals from Seamless to Bud Light. But what’s the rubric for success when it comes to turning “dank memery” into a bonafide business?
Hélène Heath tells Highsnobiety that monetizing memes still remains a hazy concept in a constantly shifting influencer marketing landscape, though. “There's no rulebook when it comes to what influencers can charge for branded social posts, and that goes for any industry, whether it's fashion, beauty, food, or in this case, memes."
"The most common variables that are taken into consideration when determining pricing are audience size, engagement rates and how many posts the influential account is mandated for. It can climb into the thousands real quick. And yes, that goes for meme-makers, too.”
Dash Hudson has also observed that Instagram engagement rates tend to be very low in the luxury fashion industry and that fashion labels don't traditionally approach social from a community standpoint, but usually post the type of content that fails to prompt users to interact with their brand. Memes do the total opposite because they encourage reactions, shares, and organic engagement.
However, more and more fashion brands are moving to incorporate memes into their social content, especially in order to target young millennial women. Brands are basically adopting the same strategies as your favorite DIY meme-makers by simply bringing up current events, memorable pop-cultural moments or touching upon certain thematic weekdays such as #motivationmondays to #relate with their audiences.
However, Gucci’s #TFWGucci campaign has emerged as a particularly stellar example because it was an absolute first for a luxury brand. Hélène Heath also adds that “Instagram accounts in this sector haven't exactly developed social voices that lend themselves to memes, but it's possible that Gucci might have opened the door for them.”
So, given that fashion brands are still actively honing their social media strategies when it comes to incorporating memes, maybe we’ll see more even more meme-makers rise to the ranks of FuckJerry's million dollar empire? Or match Josh "The Fat Jew" Ostrovsky's estimated $1.5 million net worth? Are we really bearing witness to a new guard of millionaire meme-makers and will it last? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Want more memes? Here's our pick of the best fashion meme-makers you should be following.