While Christie Lounged, Meme-Makers Went to Work

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By Jacquie Lee

When Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) shut down state-owned beaches in New Jersey—then got caught lounging on one of them—the budget stalemate furloughed tens of thousands of state employees over the July 4 weekend. It also created work for others: namely, meme-makers.

Thanks to Photoshop and some creative eyes, pictures of Christie and his beach chair popped up all over the internet: He was pasted among the cast of the reality TV show “Jersey Shore,” parked on a bench next to Forrest Gump, and posed on Gilligan’s Island. Christie even stormed the beach of Normandy, France.

But do memes pay? For comedy writer Nell Scovell, creating Christie memes didn’t provide a paycheck, but it did boost her brand and Twitter following, which was “tangentially good for my career,” Scovell told Bloomberg BNA. One of Scovell’s memes, showing Christie sitting among the wreckage of Flight 815 from the TV show “Lost,” was featured in a news story about the phenomenon.

Memes can be actual moneymakers for some. It’s unclear how much this underground market is worth, but people are now making meme-money through a variety of outlets that include marketing, card games, and online forums.

Influence Peddling

Take Sebastian Tribbie, for example. He’s a full-time, professional meme-maker who rakes in about $500 per meme, he says. Companies pay him for the meme, for the marketing strategy he delivers to boost sales, and for what he calls his “influence.” That’s what Tribbie would call a “package deal"—and it could cost companies between $1,500 and $2,500, he told Bloomberg BNA July 6.

Tribbie describes his “influence” as a re-branding of sorts. For example, the New York-based memer features lots of ads on his Instagram, but his followers would never know because the products are hidden among his memes.

And he doesn’t expect the market to slow down any time soon, he said. He averages between eight and 12 clients at a time. Previous clients include the independent artist Santigold and the fashion powerhouse Gucci.

“Oh yeah, it’s 100 percent growing,” Tribbie said. “Because once the big brands come you can charge them anything and it’s such a new form of advertising or even communication.”

And meme-fever goes beyond just marketing. Take the team behind What Do You Meme?—a card game advertised specifically for millennials. The rules are simple: A person puts down a card with a popular meme image. Players take turns placing a caption on the photo, and the funniest caption wins.

The game was launched thanks to a 2016 Kickstarter campaign and currently sells for $30.

Wall Street for Memes?

And now there’s even a meme stock market.

In October, Kyle Stratis and a few friends stumbled into an online forum called MemeEconomy that discusses which memes are the most popular. Members of the forum joked that popular memes were the ones people should “buy,” like stocks, and older memes of lesser value should be “sold.”

What started as a joke among an online community inspired Stratis and his friends to create NASDANQ LLC—a website that serves as a virtual meme stock market where members can “buy” and “sell” memes using fake currency.

The site is more of a game than a market, but Stratis hopes to attract investors. His team has developed technology that helps them scour the internet and determine which memes are the most popular—and which will be popular in the future. So far he’s received a few offers from investors, he said.

The hope is to pinpoint what will be trendy down the road. That way, investors will know where to put their money, Stratis said. He used the fidget spinner as an example.

“If we had this technology in place before the fidget spinner craze, we could say ‘this will be something worth investing in,’” he said.

If anything, the deluge of Christie-inspired memes is a reminder that one benefit of a potentially embarrassing political blunder, for meme lovers at least, is the internet’s reaction to it.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee at jlee1@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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