Before we get into that, we should first define what a meme actually is. A meme can be pretty much anything, but most often it is an image, a GIF, a video clip or a song. But there seems to be no limit, because it can also be a challenge, a dance, a text, a person or even a product. What they all have in common is that they are shared and discussed on social media platforms, in most cases just for a humorous purpose. Many people even say that they are a culture of their own, as many memes are not understandable to outsiders. Since memes are often based on pop culture media, events and news, they usually have a short lifespan and can lead to copyright issues. The sheer volume of memes led to the creation of the knowyourmeme.com database, which contains over 4,600 confirmed meme entries.
Because memes are easy to create and share, they can (if used correctly) be an extremely effective marketing tool called memetic marketing. But it is not only an efficient and inexpensive way to attract attention. It is very difficult for companies and brands to use it correctly. Many users find meme content from companies ‚cringy‘. They know that it was created for marketing purposes only. Therefore, memes from brands have to be extremely good in order to not backfire. A good example of a brand that uses memes successfully is Wendy’s. The company had a 113% jump in Twitter mentions in 2017 and a nearly 50% increase in profits since they started using memetic marketing. They even reached the top spot on Spotify’s Global Viral 50 with their mixtape. You read that right, Wendy’s produced a mixtape … and it was a huge success!
Back to the topic at hand. A meme product is a product based on a meme and/or made as a joke. Let’s focus on the meme product par excellence – the Xbox fridge. It started as a meme in December 2019 on Twitter. Some users poked fun at the new design of the Xbox Series X gaming console and started photoshopping it into kitchen pictures as a fridge. Microsoft enjoyed the meme, saw the opportunity and jumped on the hype train. They released three Xbox refrigerators in October 2020. Fans laughed, but were upset that only three were produced. So Microsoft promised to produce many more mini fridges if they won the Twitter brand vote against Skittles. Xbox won with 50.5% and kept its promise. On 19 October 2021, the Xbox mini fridge was only available in the EU through the GameStop online store for around €100. But scalpers, people who buy products in bulk to sell them at a higher price when they are out of stock, bought up almost the entire stock and real customers were again upset. A new supply has been promised but not yet officially announced.
In an interview with journalist and editor Daniel Herbig of the well-known tech news website ‚heise online‘, some questions about this kind of product were answered. I will try to reproduce the statements in summarised form. First of all, there are not many meme products on the market. Besides Xbox refrigerators, only Elon Musk’s Not-A-Flamethrower flamethrower could be called a meme product. Products like the Razer Hazel/Zephyr mask were not intended as a joke, but as a serious product, even if it has no real value as it is not an alternative to an FFP2 mask. Also, realistically, it will probably only be worn by gamers at a gaming convention.
This leads us to the next point. The people who demand these products are mostly younger people, mainly male gamers and collectors who are obviously into memes and pop culture and want to feel connected to the product, the brand and the community. Companies often lose money producing these items, but they gain loyal hardcore fans and an emotional connection that can lead to more sales. This type of marketing is very limited. It is a strategy that is quickly overused and can backfire if used too often. It is also very risky because the company could end up with a damaged image and a full warehouse of products that nobody wants. Demand has to come from the fans and cannot be forced.
Overall, the products are primarily intended as a joke and are not made for the average consumer, but for real fans who are willing to spend money on a product that may cause the company a financial loss, but at the same time generates loyal customers.
- Donath, A. (2021, April 4). Xbox Series X kommt offiziell als Kühlschrank. Golem. Retrieved 15 November 2021, from https://www.golem.de/news/microsoft-xbox-series-x-kommt-offiziell-als-kuehlschrank-2104-155480.html
- Hensen, C. (2021, October 20). Kleiner Kühlschrank ausverkauft, neue Exemplare 2022. Golem. Retrieved 15 November 2021, from https://www.golem.de/news/xbox-series-x-mini-fridge-kleiner-kuehlschrank-ausverkauft-neue-exemplare-2022-2110-160457.html
- Herbig, D. (2021, October 22). Razer Zephyr: LED-Atemschutzmaske direkt zum Marktstart ausverkauft. heise online. Retrieved 15 November 2021, from https://www.heise.de/news/Razer-Zephyr-LED-Atemschutzmaske-direkt-zum-Marktstart-ausverkauft-6226106.html
- Ivanov, I. (2017, November 9). How Brands Can Take Advantage Of The Internet Meme Culture On Social Media. Business 2 Community. Retrieved 15 November 2021, from https://www.business2community.com/marketing/brands-can-take-advantage-internet-meme-culture-social-media-01956578
- Kao, G., Hong, J., Perusse, M., & Sheng, W. (2020). Turning Silicon into Gold. Apress. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4842-5629-9#0004744910.INDD%3Ab978-1-4842-5629-9_15%3A107
- Molke, D. (2020, October 26). Meme wird wahr: Microsoft schenkt Snoop Dogg einen Xbox Series X-Kühlschrank. GamePro. Retrieved 15 November 2021, from https://www.gamepro.de/artikel/meme-snoop-dogg-xbox-series-x-kuehlschrank,3363259.html
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