Snowball Meme Marketing

Mar 25, 2017Marketing Strategy

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How can you make Leonardo DiCaprio fly from the other side of the world to dine at your restaurant? The answer is simple: it’s the power of memes.


Although the concept is as old as civilization, meme (pronounced ‘meem’) is a term coined by biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” to describe an idea, behaviour or a style that spreads from person to person within a culture(1). Ever since, and with the rise of the world wide web, the word evolved, as a meme would, to mean different things. It became known among generations as an idea or a concept on the internet, often visual in nature, which people repurpose and share.

With the development of social media, especially in the past decade, memes have become a form of pop art. They range from images with captions, the most famous form of memes, that is meant to be funny or convey a message, to viral videos that people replicate (think Harlem Shake and Mannequin Challenge), to even messaging stickers, such as the recent Trash Doves.

Salt Bae

One of the most recent memes that originated within the UAE and went viral worldwide is the Salt Bae. The Nusret Gökçe phenomenon where a UAE-based Turkish chef became known as Salt Bae. It started with an Instagram video he posted on his channel on the 7th of January, 2017 which, at the time of writing this article, generated 13,366,518 views and 513,697 likes.

A post shared by Nusr_et#Saltbae (@nusr_et) on

Using theatrical performances as a form of marketing is not new to the Turkish culture. Turkish ice cream vendors, for example, are known for teasing their customers  and people love them for it. Even for Nusret himself, that wasn’t his first over-the-top, eccentric, Instagram post. What caught people’s attention on this video is the sensual way he salts the meat, his signature move where his meme brand name originated from. This, with his eye-catching Don Juan look and dead serious demeanor, caught people’s attention and encouraged them to share the videos on other platforms.


More Than a Video

It wasn’t just the video. Viral videos have a shorter lifespan than memes. People watch and share videos, but at some point, its amusement is over. Memes are like diamonds, they’re forever (or for a longer time, at least). People repurpose memes, they reuse them. This is what makes the meme a meme — it takes on a life of its own. The concept of the meme changes, but the character (brand) associated with the meme lives on, sometimes for over a decade.


Meme Marketing

Nusr-et Steakhouse, Nusret’s chain of restaurants in Turkey and the UAE, were not your traditional mom and pop restaurant. It was already a VIP magnet before the meme fame. There’s no denying, however, the meme helped his business tremendously. The restaurants are now attracting public figures from A-List Hollywood celebrities to the highest level of UAE royalties. It’s also reported that Nusret is planning to expand to major European capitals and is currently scouting locations in London and New York.

So memes can be used in marketing. It’s not just some silly photos of grumpy cats that millennials post online; it is a potentially serious business generating tool. But how?

Memes, like everything in marketing, can have exceptionally good results if used to its potential, but it can also backfire on brands if not used in a smart way.


There are two main ways to utilize memes for marketing:


This is the laziest approach to meme marketing and the most widely used. Using meme-like content through a meme generator to create some engagement. When taking this approach, it’s recommended to stay aligned with the brand’s image and tone of voice, and to use it, when appropriate, for your ‘Hygiene’ content; the type of content you post on a daily basis. Or, occasionally for your  ‘Hub’ content; which is posted on topical occasions.

Snowball Meme Marketing

Here’s the real deal. It starts by creating a campaign that revolves around a funny concept or character that can evolve into a meme. This concept is for bigger and better quality content. For campaigns — the ‘Hero’ content. Some of the most notable examples are the New Old Spice Guy, Mac Guy vs. PC Guy, and the Most Interesting Man in the World.

The interesting point about this type of content is that these campaigns didn’t stop where the marketers intended, assuming they didn’t, but extended to a UGC (user-generated content) built from the original idea…. like a snowball builds when rolled through the snow. Here’s where our ‘hero’, Nusret, lies. His Instagram account was already a weird reality show. He was a meme waiting to happen.

Being the successful entrepreneur that he is, he used that meme brand well, really well. One of his latest Instagram videos illustrates how good he is, not only in riding the bandwagon, but in steering it.


Plan the Unplannable

The best thing about this snowball effect is that it happens organically without planning. Yet, a smart marketeer can plan a strategy to help increase their brand’s chances of being a successful meme and even control the direction of which the meme will take.

From studying successful examples, including the Salt Bae meme, here is a four-step strategy to plan your meme marketing campaign:


1) Plan the meme

What would be amusing in the proposed meme? Think of the end-result first before you plan how to get there. In Nusret’s case, it was the lavish flair. That’s the brand perception he wanted to achieve.


2) Plan the initiating media

What’s the creative approach to executing this idea and how can it be shifted into the proposed meme? Brainstorm for different ideas and the direction they can span into. A creative idea is the engine initiation that will get your snowball rolling.


3) Influencers

Influencers are the people who can make a small snowball grow. With Nusret, the viral video was one of many. What made it make this leap from just another viral video to an international meme was a tweet from the pop star Bruno Mars. A hired influencer can be part of your team to ensure they steer the snowball in the direction you want, not just to increase your reach.


4) Embrace the power of the people

If your plan works and people adopt the meme, let the snowball go. No amount of planning can guarantee the result you want 100%. So if the meme takes a direction other than the one you were planning, accept it. More than accept it, embrace it! Don’t fight the internet. Fighting it will make it slide to the negative side.


5) Leave it alone

People love memes because they are from the people to the people. They’re organic. Even if there was some planning going on backstage, don’t make it appear so. Capitalize on the meme successes, just don’t make it feel like you’re in control.


Copyright © 2019 Gus Younis