The Evolution of Memes and What Makes Them Successful

What are memes, how have they evolved, and what makes them successful? We also explore the role they play in crypto and Web3, and what the future holds for memes.

Jun 02, 2023
May 2023 Graphic Requests

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Key Takeaways

  • Memes have a rich and complex history that can be traced back to the early days of the internet. But the term “meme” was actually first coined by one of the world’s foremost evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he used it to describe a unit of cultural information that spreads from one person to another, much like a gene spreads through a population.
  • Today, a meme is commonly understood to mean anything that is a joke or humorous image circulated online. Memes often incorporate self-deprecation, sarcasm, and irony. They can take the form of images, videos, or texts that others can copy, share, and modify, potentially altering its original intended meaning. A study by Statista showed that memes were among the top types of content most likely to be shared on social media by Gen Z and Millennial internet users in the US.
Gen z and Millennials share on social media
  • Memes have also become an integral part of the cryptocurrency world, with many popular memes and internet trends being adopted by the community and used to promote various projects. Currently, meme coins and NFTs are the main representations in the crypto space.

Top Memes-Turned-NFTs

Meme NFTsAuction Price 
(approx. in US$)
Charlie Bit My Finger$761,000Image10 1
Nyan Cat$590,000Image11
Disaster Girl$500,000Image6
Overly Attached Girlfriend$411,000Image5
Grumpy Cat$83,400Image4
Troll Face$69,362Image9
Keyboard Cat$64,455Image7
Meme NFTsCharlie Bit My Finger
Auction Price 
(approx. in US$)
SampleImage10 1
Meme NFTsNyan Cat
Auction Price 
(approx. in US$)
Meme NFTsDisaster Girl
Auction Price 
(approx. in US$)
Meme NFTsOverly Attached Girlfriend
Auction Price 
(approx. in US$)
Meme NFTsGrumpy Cat
Auction Price 
(approx. in US$)
Meme NFTsTroll Face
Auction Price 
(approx. in US$)
Meme NFTsKeyboard Cat
Auction Price 
(approx. in US$)
Source: Research
  • Memes have also made their way to the Metaverse. For example, SHIB demonstrated an impressive journey from being a meme coin to building a strong community, and now to expanding into the metaverse. SHIB: The Metaverse is a decentralised virtual world built on top of Shibarium, SHIB’s Ethereum-based layer-2 blockchain network. Inspired by the Shiba Inu meme coin, the metaverse project will allow users to own, build, and monetise their own virtual land. 
  • Become a private member and access our full report on Web3 and Meme Economy to read more about crypto memes in NFTs and the metaverse.
  • Trading volume of meme coins has surged at various times over the years. Most recently, the meme coin narrative has been dominated by Pepe (PEPE). The meme is based on Pepe the Frog, which is an anthropomorphic frog character from the comic series Boy’s Club by Matt Furie. The popularity of PEPE is driving the current resurgence of meme coins.
Meme Coin Trading Volume
  • In our exclusive report Quantitative Analysis of Meme Coins, we take a quantitative look at meme coins, including performance, correlation, and duration. For example, we found that meme coins can have a meteoric rise in price during the run-up phase, followed by a descent that is just as rapid. Meme coins with larger market cap such as DOGE tend to be more resilient, with prices generally taking more days to decline.
  • Become a private member and get access to the report today.
Average Days for Meme Coin Prices to Decline from Peak
  • Ultimately, what makes a meme successful is how viral – or popular – it becomes through social sharing. But what causes certain content to spread rapidly online? Is it chance, or can content be deliberately designed to go viral? A useful framework can be found in the research of Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an authority on social influence. In his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Berger reveals that the success of viral content can be attributed to six elements, or “STEPPS”: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories.
  • One way memes derive value is from network effects. In the tech industry, including crypto, where companies compete for market share and user engagement, network effects are an established and crucial factor in determining the value of a product or service. A study found that network effects accounted for nearly 70% of the value creation in tech over the past 20 or so years.
  • However, culture should not just be valued for economic gain but for their cultural importance. Blockchain-based technologies like NFTs (which make use of memes) could change how culture is created, owned, and valued by decentralising its production and distribution.
  • The future of memes is likely to include potential creation by artificial intelligence, and new forms beyond image and text. Memes also have roles to play in building Web3 ecosystems. They aid in building culture and communities within the space. Some notable meme projects helping to establish Web3 are Doge NFT, SHIB – The Metaverse, and Floki Inu.
  • Become a private member and access our full report on Web3 and Meme Economy.

Read the full report: The Evolution of Memes and What Makes Them Successful

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