When Rembau MP Khairy Jamaluddin remained sitting alone in Parliament after his fellows staged a walk-out, Malaysians responded with a flood of memes. Whether they were doing it to stand in solidarity or simply couldn’t resist the opportunity, the results were mostly hilarious.

friend of KJ











Malaysians are no stranger to creating and loving memes – local hits include hilarious pick up lines and a lasting obsession with Thor. This got us thinking about memes in general. They are a fascinating aspect of online culture, we see them every single day on our social media channels and sometimes they consume us in fiery debate with our loved ones.

Memes are actually older than you think.

The term ‘meme’ was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1979, who used the word to describe a cultural idea, be it fashion, technology or ideology that self-replicated and spreads among people. Memes are even compared to genes and evolution – a meme can experience variation and mutation; it can become extinct or it can evolve with society. Certainly, like genes, only the fittest and strongest survive.

But online memes, the ones we see every day is simply a digital file or hyperlink that is spread through the internet. The content is often a saying or a joke, an image or a video clip or animation. What makes them popular is that they are like an inside joke, one that a large number of people are in on.

They may stay the same or evolve over time, as each successive person puts their own particular spin to it. It may change through imitations or parodies or even by collecting news accounts about itself.

And while some memes can last forever (Grumpy Cat, Success Kid and Asian Parent come to mind), some go in and out of popularity in just days.

So for those brands looking to include memes as part of their communications or to ride on a particularly viral meme, you might want to consider why some memes go viral and some memes linger in obscurity. 

So what makes a meme go viral?  


Remember the Yanny vs Laurel debate? That and something like the white and gold dress debate spread online like virtual wildfire because it was something that everyone could get into. They were something simple that everyone could develop their own opinion on, and it was something fun to argue with friends about.


Memes only go viral when they are easily relatable. For example, Khairy Jamaluddin sitting alone signifies loneliness, which is after all a feeling everyone is familiar with. It’s easy to make jokes about it about it because everyone has been in a situation before where they have felt totally and completely alone. And as a topic that involves everyone, more people will choose to share it with their friends, who then share it with their friends and so on and so forth.


There’s a reason the dab is a meme but not the pirouette. Why the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral and not something like say, Build an Ice Castle. The easier an action is to do, the more people will be able to replicate it, and the more it will go viral.

The amount of creative freedom memes offer as a medium is tempting indeed, but offering too much freedom could backfire for brands as Paramount Pictures found out when it launched a meme generator to drum up publicity for its movie Ghost in the Shell.

So is the reward worth the risk? You tell us.

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How would your brand participate in the golden age of the geek?

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