In my Part 1 of my series on meme stocks, I explained how Elon Musk is using the new communication form of Internet memes to drive up the price of both Dogecoin and Bitcoin. The TL;DR version is:
- Memes are the way a new generation of investors communicate;
- Memes spread like viruses;
- Like viral DNA, memes pack a lot of meaning into a short encoded picture or video.
When memes are used to promote specific stock market investments (GameStop) or block market investments (Dogecoin) where there’s very little underlying value, we have a problem, because things can escalate quickly:
There’s a better way.
If we could learn to create great memes to support great investments – to use the power of memes for good – we could help create a new generation of memevestors.
Instead of the “slope of ignorance” trapping unwitting investors who want to get rich quick, we can have a “slope of enlightenment” educating them on real value: getting rich slowly.
A “slope of ignorance” or “slope of enlightenment” may look the same from the outside, but they’re completely different. One rewards junk; the other rewards value. One promotes the bad; the other promotes the good. One is driven by cynicism; the other idealism.
How do we flip this model? In short, by creating a better memeconomy.
How to Create a Better Memeconomy
In Part 1 of this series, I described how memes are anything that copy themselves from brain to brain: not just funny photos, but viral videos, catchy songs, catchy ideas, catchphrases. You will recall Finkelstein’s formula of meme effectiveness (which I’ve simplified slightly):
The simple meme formula:
M = propagation x persistence
The quality of a meme is its ability to propagate,
and how long those copies persist,
to influence behavior.
But how do we create memes that both propagate and persist, AND influence behavior? Fortunately, my day job is in marketing, and marketers have been doing this for decades. (What is marketing but meme-making?)
1) First, memes need a way to get in. For example:
- Repetition: the more you hear it, the more you tend to believe it. This is the power of YouTube ads or political messages: even if you dismiss it the first time, it starts to infect your brain after 9 or 10 repetitions.
- Cognitive dissonance: When a public figure says something controversial or outrageous (“they stole the election,” “we’re going to Mars,”), it hooks your brain. This is also how Flat Earth-style conspiracy theories gain traction. Even if you strongly disagree with it, the meme has started to infect you (and others, if you share your approval/outrage).
- Trojan horse: When you are sharing memes from r/WallStreetBets, you are also spreading a whole set of ideas around “young male risk-takers who treat the stock market like a gambling casino.” For those who then start following r/WallStreetBets, the meme becomes a Trojan horse to introduce the entire collection of memes (Susan Blackmore calls this a “memeplex”).
- Speaking to niche audiences: One of the easiest formulas is to simply find a pop culture TV show (The Office), movie (Star Wars), or franchise (Marvel) and appropriate a screenshot or animated GIF with a new caption.
- Seeing other people spreading it: Some meme formats go superviral, in which case success breeds more success. Humans are herd animals: if everyone else is doing it, we tend to follow the crowd. Memes are a real-time view into the human “herd-mind.”
2) Next, memes need a way to copy themselves with fidelity. For example:
- By saying a set of memes is the Truth (think Creationism or the Big Bang Theory)
- By setting up a structure to reward verbatim copying and/or punish modification (think religious texts or the Pledge of Allegiance)
- By instilling a belief that tradition is important (think Christmas carols, the 7th Inning Stretch, pumpkin spice lattes)
3) Next, memes need a way to spread themselves to other minds. Here are a few common tricks:
- “Get the word out before it’s too late”
- “Upvote this if you agree”
- “Evangelize this meme” (go door-to-door if needed!)
- “Help spread the word”
- “Like, follow, share … and smash that subscribe button!”
Let’s bring these to life with a real-world example meme.
How a Meme Spreads and Evolves
In the end, Steven Crowder created an extremely successful meme with his table stunt – though perhaps not in the way he expected. (Remember: good meme creators lose control of their creations.) Does it really matter that it mutated from conservative politics to Minecraft? The idea got copied, all the same.
To me, that idea was not male privilege, but the look of satisfied smugness on Crowder’s face: an expression that might be translated I know it all, and you have to prove to me why I’m wrong.
So what might be the positive equivalent of this meme? It might be one that encourages the human virtue of Open-Mindedness, perhaps “Let’s Discuss” instead of “Change My Mind.”
Again, memes always have an underlying message, even if the creator is not consciously aware of it. This is why I encourage you to develop the habit of translating memes into plain English. Think about what they’re really saying.
Memes don’t care whether their message is positive or negative. They’re like viruses: they just want to spread.
But as humans creating and sharing these memes, we are like bio-hackers that can either use our powers for evil or for good. We’re injecting ideas into people’s brains: we can make them either viruses or vaccines.
How to Use our Meme-Making Powers for Good
You may have noticed that every issue of our daily newsletter starts with the catchphrase “Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” It’s a meme.
It’s easy to remember, because the first two words rhyme. It sounds kind of like the old saying, “Early to bed / early to rise / makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” which already has hooks into your brain. And it’s the first thing you see in our newsletter, getting your brain stuck in this positive thought loop.
This is how a meme can be used to positive ends, especially since we really believe these things. We really do wish health, wealth, and happiness for everyone – why not? And by putting it at the top of every newsletter, it also reminds us why we’re here. It’s a vaccine, not a virus.
In the marketing world, we have something called a “Campaign Brief.” This is a short document delivered to the creative department before they start work on a new TV or radio ad campaign (which, remember, are essentially meme campaigns). It explains the message they’re trying to communicate.
At our parent company Media Shower, we have a similar Campaign Brief, updated for the meme generation. We call it our “Meme Playbook,” and here’s what it contains.
Primary Message: A one-sentence message that is clear, actionable, and inspiring.
Message Points: 5-10 message points that can be used as “springboards” for blog posts and social media.
Hashtags: 3-5 popular hashtags that we can use to “piggyback” our message on Twitter.
Character Strength: The critical component for creating good memes, these are the 2-3 positive human values that we will call upon with this message. (List of character strengths here.)
Communication is more effective when it’s tied into the Great Human Values.
Pop Culture Tie-ins: Are there crossover franchises (The Matrix, It’s Always Sunny, Spongebob) that we can mash up?
Cognitive Dissonance: Is there any element that will make the brain “trip up” and take notice?
Authority: Is there any element of “authority” that will encourage people to copy and share with fidelity (tradition, “the Truth,” other memeplexes)?
Post channels: Where will we post this meme? (Social media, message boards, traditional ad campaigns)
Repetition Frequency: How often will we post this meme?
Viral spread: How will we encourage it to be copied and shared, without explicitly asking for it?
The Meme Playbook in Action
A real-life example will help. Let’s say we want to spread the idea that “bitcoin is digital gold.” Our Meme Playbook might look like this:
Primary Message: Bitcoin is like a digital version of gold: it’s valuable, scarce, and will hold its store of value over the long term.
- Bitcoin is like gold, but easier to hold. (Easy to remember, because it rhymes.)
- Total value of gold: $7.5 trillion. Total bitcoin: 21 million. Do the math. (Creates cognitive dissonance, as smart people like you will actually do the math.)
- Set. Gold. (Builds excitement and anticipation.)
- #bitcoingold (note this “piggybacks” off Bitcoin Gold, which is actually a separate asset, but memes don’t care)
- Love of learning
Pop Culture Tie-ins:
- Wolf of Wall Street (ostentatious wealth)
- Emma Watson smirking (knowingly understanding the future price of bitcoin)
- Jeff Goldblum (perhaps captions in Jeff Goldblum style playing off “gold bitcoin”)
- “Bitcoin” and “Gold” will cause dissonance in non-believers and goldbugs alike.
- Traditional financial authorities are beginning to spread the “bitcoin as digital gold” meme. Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio has called bitcoin a “gold-like” store of value, and the Wall Street Journal just ran a piece around digging for digital gold.
Post channels: Social media + Bitcoin Market Journal newsletter
Repetition Frequency: 2x weekly through Q1 2021
Viral spread: We will write a series of articles about this meme campaign, and ask subscribers to create their own.
Putting it All Together
We believe in transparency. Rather than creating these memes in a shadowy underground lair, we’re operating in bright sunshine. Now you understand exactly what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it.
And now that I’ve written a series of articles about this meme campaign, I ask you to create your own. Feel free to like and share the memes below.
John Hargrave is the author of Blockchain for Everyone: How I Learned the Secrets of the New Millionaire Class, described as “The Bible of Blockchain Investing.”