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The Virality Secrets Behind Five Most Popular Social Media Memes of All Time

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Memes have an irresistible quality to them. They are comical, injecting humor or sarcasm into hot button political and social issues, and presenting them with a certain irreverence that suggests that we indeed live in a mad, mad world. Memes also offer a welcome break from text posts on a social media page.

The word ‘meme’ refers to an idea transmitted from person to person through speech, writing or gestures in the form of a mimicked theme. In the context of internet culture, the World Wide Web is the medium that carries the creatively expressed concept or idea.

What makes a meme go viral?

This is a tough one actually. Those resonating most with internet users and getting shared copiously most often deal with a theme that users ‘get’ or a joke that they are ‘in on’. There is usually a back story to popular memes that many users are aware of or implicitly understand. This familiarity is one of the key reasons behind the virality of a meme. Of course, for a meme to succeed, it should also be original, expressive and imaginative.

1. Grumpy Cat Memes


Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat’s face is her fortune. Afflicted with a disorder called feline dwarfism, the perpetually scowling feline is your worst nightmare if she has you in the crosshairs of her sarcastic witticisms! There are thousands of captioned Grumpy Cat memes floating around the internet, and they’re so amusing that you’ll have a hard time picking the funniest of the lot.

Why are people drawn to Grumpy Cat? For one, it is safe to say that cats dominate the internet. The cat and dog media is huge, capitalizing on the human instinct to nurture entities smaller and younger than us. Cats are a lot like humans – they give you a cold shoulder, stare at you judgmentally, require their own personal space, and clean themselves a lot (more than most animals at least).

Beyond this, Grumpy Cat is that fearless jokester who loves to be politically incorrect and says openly what most of us don’t because we’re polite or because we fear some kind of retribution.

2. Willy Wonka Memes



Willy Wonka’s quote “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men” is far from what his meme avatar suggests. Willy Wonka memes have little tolerance for nonsense, and are known for their condescension, precisely the reason why they work so well! The meme Wonka is a nice fit with Gene Wilder’s portrayal of the character in the 1971 musical fantasy Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. This Wonka was socially awkward and quite patronizing, an overall interesting, if weird, character.

Many of us enjoy a dry sense of humor and deadpan sarcasm. It explains the box-office success or cult status of movies such as The Big Lebowski, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Juno, Rushmore, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, to name a few. While Grumpy Cat is on a mission to be rude and disrespectful, the Willy Wonka themes are indirect in their verbal attacks and launch insults in a classy manner!

3. Success Kid Memes



Just like how Grumpy Cat’s face sparked a wildly popular internet theme, so did Sammy Griner’s after his mother posted a picture of him with his fist clenched and a determined look on his face. This was back in 2007 when Sammy was barely a year old; it didn’t take long for it to go viral on MySpace. Virgin Media purchased the rights to use Sammy’s image on their billboards in the UK and he was also snapped up to appear in ads for Vitamin Water.

Why did the Success Kid memes go viral? Maybe because a baby with a priceless expression is communicating with us. And maybe also because human infants enjoy their own internet stardom alongside cats. Baby videos have figured consistently on YouTube’s ‘most watched’ lists, with the most memorable ones including Charlie Bit My Finger, Baby Eating Lemon and Ninja Baby.

4. First World Problems Memes



Over 700,000 unique First World Problems memes exist on the World Wide Web today. First world problems or ‘white whine’ as they are also called, have come to depict the gap in issues faced by first-world citizens of developed countries and the daily struggles experienced by people living in the so-called Third World economies. This difference has been used to spread awareness about the conditions faced by people living in poverty versus the perceived grievances often vented by privileged white people. In today’s highly connected world and growing activism, First World Problems paint a grim reality and encourage us to think beyond our egos.

5. One Does Not Simply Memes



The One Does Not Simply memes is based off the famous line ‘One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor’ stated by Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie. The meme’s popularity is linked to the massive viewership of the Lord of the Rings series. The epic line is also malleable to a number of situations, a reason why there are thousands of One Does Not Simply memes currently in existence today.


When you memejack, you leverage popular themes for your own brand marketing purposes. These memejacking tips will come in handy:

  • Keep track of trending memes and ‘hijack’ them as soon as you can. Sites you should be browsing include Facebook, Twitter, 4chan, StumbleUpon and Reddit.
  • Research the relevance and value of the meme for your marketing campaign and brand image. If you think your audience will not connect to the meme, avoid it even if a large majority of the internet population loves it.
  • For the meme to be effective, it should encapsulate the message or slogan of your brand.
  • Create memes directly related to brand content that align with your brand voice.
  • It goes without saying that your meme must be funny, witty and entertaining.
  • Avoid veering from the format and style of the original meme or you may be opening yourself to criticism.
  • Besides sharing your memes on social media, you can incorporate them in your blog posts or even on one of your webpages, as appropriate.

If you’re interested in creating memes as part of your social media content mix, it helps to stay on top of the latest news and trending topics in your industry or the world at large. A content discovery app can be extremely useful in getting the latest relevant news from news sites and blogs on the internet.

Image Credit : Giphy