The power of memes: Uncovering the role of internet culture in content creation

Hamsini Shivakumar and Prabhjot Singh Gambhir of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, write about the connection between memes and content creation, along with some examples of brands that use memes very well in their communications

Hamsini Shivakumar
New Update
Post Thumb

In the age of the internet, where information spreads like wildfire, memes have emerged as a powerful and ubiquitous form of communication. These humorous and often satirical images, videos, or texts that go viral online have transformed the way we interact with content and have become a driving force behind modern-day internet culture. Memes have not only reshaped the way we communicate, but they have also influenced content creation across various platforms.

So, what exactly is a meme? Coined by biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book "The Selfish Gene," the term "meme" refers to an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. In the context of the internet, memes take the form of relatable or amusing content that is shared and replicated rapidly through social media platforms, email, and other online channels.

Memes have a unique ability to capture and distil complex ideas into concise and easily digestible formats. They often draw on shared cultural references, inside jokes, or current events, making them highly relatable to specific online communities. From image macros with witty captions to reaction GIFs and viral challenges, memes have become a language of the internet, enabling users to express themselves and communicate in a way that is both efficient and entertaining.

One of the most remarkable aspects of memes is their capacity to transcend language and cultural barriers. Memes can be understood and appreciated by people from diverse backgrounds as they tap into universal human experiences or emotions. This universality has allowed memes to spread rapidly across the globe, creating a global internet culture that transcends borders.

But what is the connection between memes and content creation? Memes have become an integral part of the creative process for many content creators, including marketers, social media influencers, and even traditional media outlets. Incorporating memes into their work enables these creators to connect with their target audience on a deeper level, leveraging the shared humour and cultural references embedded within meme culture.

Memes also play a crucial role in shaping the viral nature of online content. With the ability to create relatable and shareable content, memes have the potential to turn ordinary content into something extraordinary. A simple image or video, when paired with a clever caption or meme format, can quickly gain traction and be spread far and wide. This viral nature has made memes a valuable tool for content creators looking to increase their reach and engagement. 

Let’s take a look at some examples of brands that use memes very well in their communications, the Meme Ninjas as it were:

- Zomato

Zomato on Instagram: “special shoutout to the 3 people who tipped ₹2000 in cash

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Zomato (@zomato)


Zomato is one of the companies that really engages in meme marketing, particularly on Instagram. They keep a close eye on the popular and trending content on the platform and leverage it to create their own memes. For example, on Valentine's Day, Zomato targets the single youth as its primary audience by reassuring them that they don't need a companion as long as they have food. This meme effectively showcases Zomato's food-based app offering while also making the brand appear relevant by incorporating trends such as "pawwrty ho rahi hai," which went viral thanks to a Pakistani influencer.

Another meme that Zomato recently posted featured the problem of the 2000 rupee note ban in India. Zomato posted the meme with statistics about how 72% of their cash on delivery orders were paid with 2000-rupee notes. To visually depict this interesting development, Zomato brilliantly utilised a popular meme from the acclaimed AMC show ‘Breaking Bad’, featuring the character Huell sleeping on a pile of money. However, Zomato put its unique twist on the meme by replacing the American currency with a backdrop of 2000 rupee notes, perfectly capturing the essence of the situation. Clearly, for Zomato, meme marketing is synonymous with moment marketing.

- Netflix

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Netflix India (@netflix_in)


Netflix, being a streaming platform, has a unique advantage for meme marketing as it can utilise visual materials from the films available on its platform. Netflix often uses screenshots from movies and TV shows and pairs them with funny captions. These captions may also reference existing trends on social media sites. For instance, when Netflix posted a meme from "Golmaal Returns," it tapped into the popularity of the trending series "Cobra Kai."

In another meme, Netflix posted a carousel of memes that combined the frames of different films with Shahrukh Khan’s famous dialogue - “It’s the most beautiful feeling in the world”, said in the context of a heartbreak. The technique of using two scenes/dialogues from different films said in an entirely different context, and splicing them together is something that we often see in Netflix’s meme marketing strategy.

- Tinder

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Tinder India (@tinder_india)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Tinder India (@tinder_india)


Tinder, on the other hand, not only draws inspiration from popular trends on Instagram but also takes meme marketing to conventional advertising spaces. Additionally, Tinder sometimes employs a strategy that we could call ‘meta-meme marketing’. In one of their billboards, they humorously poke fun at themselves and question whether their billboard itself qualifies as advertising. This self-deprecating approach positions the dating app as a cool platform that can take jokes at its own expense, resonating well with the youth.

- Disney+ Hotstar

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Disney+ Hotstar (@disneyplushotstar)


Disney+ Hotstar takes a page from Netflix's book when it comes to creating memes that blend elements from different series on their platform. However, they add a quirky twist by making memes specific to the series they are referencing. For example, in a meme featuring the popular Indian show "Khichdi," the meme replaces "Google search" with "Praful search." This joke has a slightly layered quality, referring to the character Hansa's habit of incessantly asking questions and her husband patiently responding every time.

In another meme featuring Shefali Shah, relatable everyday problems, such as friends requesting a birthday party, are depicted. A snippet extracted from the show is cleverly incorporated to create a humorous contrast. The genius of these memes lies in the juxtaposition of unrelated elements, presenting them in a context where their inherent disconnection becomes comically apparent. 


So what does the popularity of memes tell us when we read them as cultural signs?

Laughter, humour and satire are evergreen needs in all societies and cultures. Memes as a format tap into this need exceedingly well in the context of Internet culture, which exists in parallel with lived culture.

The metaphor or analogy is a well-known, well-established literary and creative device used in advertising and mass communication. Memes use surprising juxtapositions as metaphor devices to joke and provoke laughter.

Humour is a binding force that connects people.  There is nothing like sharing an in-joke or the same sense of humour to connect strangers and make them feel like they are a part of the in-group. Hence, the sharing and virality of memes.

If memes are so popular and such a great virality device for building audiences, how come there are only a few MemeNinjas, the brands that we have identified?

Memes set such a high bar for creativity at speed, responding to trends of the day, of the moment that only a few brands can produce them regularly and as part of their ongoing marketing and brand communication. It requires an in-house team of creatives who can take on the challenge. Finally, commenting on the developments of the day can also backfire, so the risk of backlashes is also high. Navigating this potential landmine on a daily basis can also be tough.

Never-the-less, the brands who can successfully practise meme and moment marketing reach the top of the brand love pyramid with Gen Z and young millennial consumers.  That's the pot of gold waiting for brands to tap into.

content creation Netflix Memes Tinder Zomato Disney+ Hotstar brand marketing communication internet culture