It depends on the definition of “meme” you are using. If you are going with the classic Dawkins definition as any type of culturally transmitted information, then memes are clearly monetizable. With colloquial definitions, which typically refer to mutating Internet media and in-jokes, it is a bit more controversial to monetize but it has been done. A commonly cited example would be the Old Spice campaign.
Brands attempting to use Internet culture in advertising can also backfire. Some examples include the Dub the Dew online contest or more recently Coca-Cola’s #GIFTheFeeling GIF creator or even #McDStories.
I would agree that it would be difficult to make money off an image macro meme. Companies typically try to use hashtags, viral videos and other types of online content to monetize “memes.”
The Wikipedia definition of “meme” is rather broad: “activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person via the Internet.” So, if you are using that kind of broad definition, then companies clearly use memes in marketing all the time.
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