The Ultimate Guide to Memes & Meme Culture

Memes are everywhere.

If you have spent any time on the internet whatsoever, you’ve been exposed to them.

They are easily shared on every social media platform available.

Follow that up with the fact that most of us have a shorter attention span than a goldfish, and memes are the perfect piece of content to add to any social media site.

But what exactly are memes, where did they get their start, and what are some of the most popular memes ever made.

All About the History of Memes & Meme Culture

Memes go back farther in history than you might know. The earliest mention of the word ‘meme’ was in 1976 when biologist Richard Dawkins wrote the word mimeme in his book titled The Selfish Gene. He used it to describe ideas that spread like organisms. He made a claim they can mutate and move from one person to the next quickly.

Eventually, the word was condensed to meme, because it was so similar to genes.

While there is virtually no way to know what the exact first meme was, Dawkin’s idea eventually went from a hypothesis to a living, breathing animal on the internet.

Those desolate first days of the world wide web had tiny pockets where memes spread via email or message boards. People were using them to share information quickly and easily. It also fosters communication and interaction between people. This gave birth to what we know now as meme culture.

Some of the earliest memes include the Hampster Dance in 1999Dancing Baby in 1996, and Godwin’s Law in 1990.

Hampster Dance in 1999

Dancing Baby in 1996

this baby gif is one of the first internet memes ever. during the 90s this baby gif was everywhere. dancing-baby.gif is a legend

Godwin’s Law in 1990

Godwin’s Law states “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Because of the internet’s interactive nature, memes were the perfect way to communicate. Sharing these messages to internet users of countless backgrounds helped them morph into what we now know as memes.  Even if two people will never meet, speak to one another, or have any sort of physical interaction, they can be connected via memes. That has created a meme culture.

What is a Meme?

Just like everything else on the internet, the definition of what a meme is can be challenging to clarify. In the most simplistic terms, a meme is associated with a video or an image that focuses on a specific idea.
It is also highly shareable! It can be about anything from politics, humor, and even spirituality.

Culture and Memes

Meme culture is a culture and process of spreading information through memes. However, cultural ideas are spread using memes.
Gavin Brown, Student Fellow at The Berglund Center for Internet Studies Pacific University, studied how Web Culture uses memes to spread and manipulate ideas.
He says that memes have to be separated into two categories, humorist or social commentary.
Both of those categories are dictated by the culture that creates content.
Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, middle-aged or a teenager, if you’re creating memes, you’ll use your experience as the foundation for the memes you share.
In other words, the culture you’re a part of dictates the type of memes you like.

Who Shares & Pays Attention to Memes?

So, the question is, who shares memes?
The answer? Primarily millennials.
There are more than 90 million of them in the US today—outnumbering baby boomers. As a result, the US economy is being reshaped by them and their lifestyle preferences.
This is why many businesses are turning to memes to hit this prime demographic.
Both men and women share and enjoy memes. Older generations, however, are less likely to share memes—since most memes have at least some pop culture reference.

Marketers and Memes

In 2016, a report by Social Media Examiner showed that 74 percent of marketers use visual marketing throughout their social media campaigns.
Social media is the primary foundation for sharing content and ideas. Marketers know this.
What do they use to drive home their product/service?
Entertaining and informing an audience is no longer an option, thanks to meme culture. Visual memes create a relationship between the audience and the business.

Social Media Networks Based on Memes

Memes are so popular they even have multiple social media networks devoted exclusively to them. Some of the most popular include sites like 9GAG and MemeBase.
But there are other sites, even professional sites, where memes are used. Even LinkedIn has a place for memes and meme culture.
With over 3 million users sharing content weekly, memes popup on LinkedIn primarily to drive traffic to external blog links.
Virtually anywhere you can share content you’ll find a meme that represents an idea or at the very least something to chuckle at.

Big Companies Who Use Memes

Memes aren’t just isolated to social media networks. Companies are using them too.
For example, Denny’s recently developed their own viral content based on memes.

Their most successful was a tweet with an image of pancakes, tempting people to zoom in on the syrup.
Creating funny, super engaging content is where Denny’s was successful.
Jimmy John’s also uses memes to push their content to followers on Twitter. Their content takes popular internet memes and focuses on their sandwiches.

Both campaigns have been popular and successful because there is an audience who sees their content and enjoys it.
But their memes are far from the most famous…

The Most Famous Memes in History

The following are some of the most famous memes in the history of the internet.
Researchers from the European Union analyzed four websites, Twitter, 4Chan, Gab, and Reddit to come up with this list.
1. Trollface
2. Pepe the Frog
3. Keyboard Cat
4. Sarcastic Willy Wonka
5. Smug Frog
6. Confession Bear
7. Keep Calm and Carry On
8. SpongeBob
9. Manning Face
10. Make Great America Great Again

1. Trollface


2. Pepe the Frog

MRW the Anti Defamation League designates Pepe the frog as a ‘hate symbol’

3. Keyboard Cat

4. Sarcastic Willy Wonka


The Future of Memes

Memes are here to stay. They entertain us, they make us laugh, and they are a tool for marketers.
The question isn’t so much what the future of memes is as it is where they will come from next.
After all, they have already come from the Oscars, political campaigns, and even kids’ cartoons.
As long as humans can communicate using the internet, they’ll be a new meme representing a new idea. Of that, we can all be sure.


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