Memes Are a Big Business

We all love memes. Whether sharing reaction GIFs or posting a funny pic in the comment section of a Facebook argument, memes are everywhere these days.

Some meme creators (and their subjects) are making a killing off the craze. Whether it’s from merchandising the original image, licensing it to advertisers, or leveraging the Internet fame to start a new career, these Internet stars have found rather unique ways to monetize their 15 minutes.

Here are a few of the most successful and popular memes over the past decade. Some of them have done better than others, and it’s fascinating to see the stark income differences of some of your favorite Internet memes.

Bad Luck Brian

Kyle Craven is better known online as Bad Luck Brian, and, as luck would have it, his meme has probably generated the least amount of money on this list.

Since January 2012, Bad Luck Brian has generated approximately $20,000 for Craven.

The meme has been sold on t-shirts, stuffed animals, and novelty items at Walmart and Hot Topic. It’s also been featured in ads in the U.S., Germany, Poland, Chile, and Puerto Rico for companies like Volkswagon and RealPlayer.

As of January 2018, Bad Luck Brian’s Facebook page has over 9500 followers, his Twitter account has 2028 followers, and his Instagram account has 4727 followers. He also has a YouTube channel with 56,394 subscribers. It only has two videos posted, both four years ago.

Cash Me Outside

Danielle Bregoli Peskowitz is better known these days by her stage name Bhad Bhabie. Her rise to fame, however, is due to a 2016 appearance on Dr. Phil, in which Danielle, then 13, appeared with her mother.

When the audience began booing this fake gangsta, she responded in a manner that made TV history. She began screaming in a fake southern accent white suburbia associates with gang life, “Cash me outside! Howbow dah?”

The clip went instantly viral, and by 2017 was one of the most popular memes on the Internet. She leveraged the fame to start a rap career in August 2017 and was signed to a multi-album recording contract by Atlantic Records.

Her net worth was estimated at over $1.2 million in early 2017, although her recent endorsement deals, record deal, reality show deal has Inquisitr estimating her 2018 net worth closer to $10 million.

As of January 2018, Bhad Bhabie’s YouTube channel has 3.4 million subscribers. Her Instagram account has 12.1 million followers, she has 1.8 million fans on Facebook, and her Twitter account is sitting at 448,000 followers.


Kabosu is a female Shiba Inu who was adopted in 2008 by Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Sato. She’s more popularly known online as a doge, thanks to a photo taken in 2010.

The meme is written using Comic Sans and became popular in July 2013. By December 2013, Oregon programmer Billy Markus and Australian programmer Jackson Palmer created Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency bearing the likeness of the popular meme.

Dogecoin started as a joke, but it reached a market cap of $2 billion in January 2018. As of January 25, it’s sitting at $881 million.

The term Doge was added to in November 2015. It’s been referenced by the U.S. Congress, Delta Air Lines, Google, Weird Al, and Josh Wise’s NASCAR car. However, none of this money seems to have made its way to Sato, a Japanese pet blogger whose last post was in October 2016.

The Shiba Inu breed, however, is thriving from the meme. Shinjiro Ono has an Instagram account for her doge Maru with 2.6 million followers. A doge-related Twitter account called @DogeTheDog has 173,000 Twitter followers. And a doge Facebook page has over 573,000 fans.

And although doge popularity peaked in late 2013, both doge and Shiba Inu are much better off than they were before the meme.

Grumpy Cat

Tardar Sauce is well known across the Internet, although she’s more well-known for her “stage” name – Grumpy Cat.

She originally rose to prominence in September 2012 after Bryan Bundesen, brother of her owner Tabatha, posted a picture of her on Reddit.

She soon went viral, and a business (Grumpy Cat Ltd) was built around her in January 2013. The company sells licensed merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, books, and stuffed toys.

Media reports in 2014 estimated Grumpy Cat had earned $100 million, but Tabatha denies this. Her actual earnings are unknown, but the company was valued at an estimated $1 million in September 2013.

Also in September 2013, Grumpy Cat became the Official Spokescat of Friskies.

And in 2013 Grenade Beverage owners Nick and Paul Sandford signed a $150,000 deal with Grumpy Cat Limited to sell iced coffee beverages featuring the cat’s image. GCL then sued Grenade in 2015 claiming the company exceeded the deal by selling other Grumpy merchandise.

Grenade counter-sued, stating Grumpy Cat failed to hold up its end of the deal by mentioning the brand across social media. In 2018, the court ruled in Grumpy Cat’s favor, awarding it $710,000 in damages for copyright and trademark infringement.

Grumpy cat has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, Anderson Live, Big Morning Buzz Live, The Soup, American Idol, The Bachelorette, WWE Monday Night Raw, SXSW, and Disney Channel’s Bizaardvark, among others.

In 2014, Lifetime made a TV movie called Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever starring Tardar.

As of January 2018, Grumpy Cat has 2.4 million Instagram followers, 1.42 million Twitter followers, and 8.5 million Facebook followers.

Overly Attached Girlfriend

Laina Morris is better known to the Internet as the Overly-Attached Girlfriend due to the above still from a YouTube video she published in June 2012. The video has over 19 million views as of January 2018. Laina’s YouTube channel has 1.2 million subscribers, her Twitter account has 224,000 followers, and her her Facebook page has over 511,000 fans.

The initial video was a parody video made for a Justin Bieber cover contest but blew up on Reddit due to her insane stare.

Laina has appeared both as herself and OAG on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Nerdist Podcast, and ad campaigns for Kia, Delta Airlines, and Samsung.

Her net worth is estimated at around $215,000. Divide that over the 6 years she’s been doing this, and she’s making less than $40,000. Not really worth dropping out of college for unless you really love what you do.

Pepe the Frog

Perhaps the most controversial meme on this list is Pepe the Frog. Pepe was created in 2005 by Matt Furie in his Boy’s Club comic. It grew in popularity in 2008, and by 2015, it was one of the most popular memes on 4chan and Tumblr.

In 2016, Pepe became a mascot of the alt-right movement and was added to the Anti-Defamation League’s database of hate symbols. In 2017, Time Magazine named Furie one of The 25 Most Influential People on the Internet.

A children’s book supporting white supremacy was created without Furie’s consent, and he successfully sued. The profits from that are being donated to a Muslim-American advocacy group.

Furie is furious that Pepe was taken over by the alt-right and killed the character off. He was later resurrected as a peaceful character.

Aside from the alt-right, Pepe has been shared on social media by celebrities like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. A mock “Rare Pepe” market has circulated around the Internet for years, and random people are occasionally able to make a buck here and there in the name of irony.

Still, Furie hasn’t made any money from the spread of the meme. It has raised his Internet profile though. As of January 2018, his Facebook page has over 761,000 fans. He also sells artwork on Etsy and raised nearly $35,000 on Kickstarter to resurrect Pepe.

Success Kid

Sammy Griner rose to Internet fame in 2007 after his mom Laney uploaded a picture of him to Flickr with the caption “I Hate Sandcastles.” Soon after, he became an Internet sensation known as Success Kid.

When the meme became popular, Laney began licensing the image and successfully sued to have it removed from a fireworks company’s products. Still, his image was legally used in ads for Vitamin Water, Virgin Mobile, Hot Topic, Radio Shack, Microsoft Xbox, Barrack Obama’s White House, and the family’s own GoFundMe page for his father’s kidney transplant.

After media outlets like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, ABC News, CNN, and Time reported on the fundraiser, it raised over $100,000 for Justin Griner’s surgery.

Sam’s grown a lot since his baby picture became a meme, and you can keep up with him on Laney’s FlickrFacebook, Instragram, or Twitter accounts.

This Is Fine Dog

K.C. Green creates a lot of comic books, but his most popular by far is an issue of Gunshow called “The Pills Are Working.” It features a dog sitting at a table, calmly drinking coffee as his house burns around him. The full 6-panel comic goes on to show him continuing to say affirmative statements until he melts.

The comic was created in 2013 but took on a life of its own in 2016. The first two panels, along with the phrase “This is fine,” became the Internet’s way of reacting when everything isn’t fine.

This Is Fine Dog isn’t the first meme based on Green’s comics. He’s also responsible for Dickbutt, I’m Okay With This, Mother of God, and Staredad, among others. Although he discontinued Gunshow, Green still creates comics on his website.

In August 2016, Green raised over $454,000 on Kickstarter to create a This Is Fine Plush Dog. He’s also making $1078 per month through Patreon as of January 2018.

Green has over 48,000 followers on Twitter, where you can keep up with his career too.

White Guy Blinking

The biggest meme of 2017 by far was the Blinking White Guy. The GIF shows a man just staring and blinking incredulously. That man is Drew Scanlon, a former video producer at gaming site Giant Bomb.

The clip is from an episode of Giant Bomb’s Unprofessional Fridays filmed back in 2013, where Scanlon reacts to editor Jeff Gerstmann saying he’s “farming with his hoe” in a game called Starbound.

It soon became a Twitter phenomenon and was spread quickly as a reaction meme (a popular pastime on the social networking site).

Drew has since left Giant Bomb to create his own YouTube channel Cloth Map, which has 55,420 subscribers as of January 2018. In addition, his Twitter account has over 70,000 followers, and his Instagram account has 5164 followers. Cloth Map’s Twitter has 11,400 followers.

Scanlon’s Patreon is bringing in $14,606 per month as of January 2018. His Internet stardom has definitely been paying off, as that comes out to over $175,000 per year.


Dr. Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. You can find his work in Cracked, High Times, HuffPost, Lifewire, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other places, although much of it is no longer under his name. Dr. Penny loves annoying fake media.

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