Marketers turn to meme accounts for humor, news and group therapy

Smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 do have 5G variants globally, but their Indian variants do not support 5G connections right now.
Smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 do have 5G variants globally, but their Indian variants do not support 5G connections right now.

Summary

Ad industry meme creators have begun breaking news, earning revenue and attracting attention from industry leaders

Advertising meme account @digital_chadvertising had decidedly humble beginnings on its way to becoming a popular outlet for industry workers to voice their frustrations, connect with each other and share marketing news.

The account’s creator said he was in his bathroom on New Year’s Day in 2019, recovering from the previous night’s festivities as he scrolled through Instagram. Inspired by accounts that parody the legal, consulting and finance industries, he decided to create a handle poking fun at his own work overseeing digital ad buys.

@digital_chadvertising has since gained nearly 80,000 followers on Instagram while mocking everything from industry acronyms to Twitter’s recent advertiser exodus. That does not match the Instagram followings of the leading ad trade publications, but it tops those of large ad-agency networks and other industry accounts.

“I didn’t think it was going to be where it is now. My memes are basically weaponized ADHD at this point," @digital_chadvertising’s creator said.

Memes consist of images or short videos, often drawn from pop-culture properties like “The Office," overlaid with original in-jokes for groups such as retail stock investors and midlevel marketers.

Dozens of similar accounts have emerged in recent years in the marketing world, especially during the pandemic, with each aspiring to create a sense of community among entry-level staffers and CMOs alike by offering an unvarnished look at the mundane work that consumes marketers’ waking hours.

Most of the accounts are Instagram pages run by industry veterans. Some prefer formats and platforms that don’t fit the strict definition of a meme but still use the meme world’s sardonic tone to target an industry niche. Account runners are often anonymous, saying they need to hide their identities to protect their privacy and avoid damaging their career prospects. They also say anonymity can boost the appeal of their accounts by encouraging openness and broader engagement.

Some creators don’t hide their identities. “I think I found a good balance of being funny and making fun of things without feeling like I need to be anonymous," said Ashley Rutstein, who started the meme-like TikTok account @stuffaboutadvertising in a moment of pandemic-driven boredom and now has more than 43,000 followers.

Ms. Rutstein, whose posts include in-jokes and discussions of campaigns from big brands like Burger King, said agency leaders have sent direct messages asking for her opinions on the latest ads.

As they gain more attention, some accounts have moved beyond the often crude humor of memes to begin sharing real-time information about newsworthy events, like service outages at major platforms and recent layoffs at entertainment company NBCUniversal and ad-agency network GroupM. At the same time, @digital_chadvertising said that he doesn’t fact-check industry staffers’ claims before posting them, and he has posted contradictory claims about these events.

Industry leaders have taken notice of the online activity.

“These accounts have grown to become part of your day-to-day reading the same way the industry trades have," said Matt Barash, senior vice president of the Americas and global publishing at ad marketplace Index Exchange Inc. “Some days they’re breaking news and sharing topical takes on stories before the trades do."

@agencyprobs documents the struggles of careerad-agency employees; @justmediathingss focuses on media buyers; @workinsocialtheysaid appeals to frazzled social-media managers.

On Twitter, @AdtechGod pokes holes in ad-tech’s impenetrable jargon, while @femalcopywriter critiques where it sees gender inequality in the agency world.

Brands also have been pulled into the discourse. A 2020 “Lord of the Rings" meme by @digital_chadvertising suggested that work operating system Monday.com Ltd. should run fewer YouTube pre-roll ads, prompting the company to respond, “We know our ads are a lot and we’re working on improving the experience."

In 2021, after a @marketing_humor post implied that payment platform Venmo had launched a $100,000 giveaway to counter complaints about its new transaction fees, USA Today published a fact-checking article in which a Venmo spokeswoman called the joke “factually inaccurate."

Some accounts openly court controversy. One of @femalcopywriter’s tweets with the most engagement mocked the belief that pro bono ads advocating for stricter gun control can have any effect on gun violence.

“The fun ones are the ones that get people a little angry," said one of the two women who run the account.

For some, the meme activity frequently overlaps with their day jobs.

“The line is so thin between meme and work with my specific niche," said @digital_chadvertising. He often uses the account to ask marketers for technical advice. Followers also helped him better understand whether other buyers were changing their strategies in response to events like the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, he said.

Additionally, the creators have developed side businesses, with many earning modest income from sponsored posts promoting ad-tech and business-to-business software companies.

Mickey Taylor, an agency creative director who several years ago outed himself as the co-founder of genre pioneer Adweak, a Twitter account, eventually turned his Onion-style parody posts into Adweak Studio, which develops content for brands. More recently, @digital_chadvertising started an e-commerce store selling hoodies and sweatshirts embellished with fictional job titles like “account services client therapist."

The accounts can also double as job boards. @AdtechGod, for example, said it has helped strangers land new positions.

Ms. Rutstein received so many freelance queries from recruiters who found her on LinkedIn after seeing her TikToks that she decided to leave her full-time agency job for good in 2021, she said.

All the attention has surprised some of the meme makers.

@AdtechGod said his job, helping a large business manage its ad-tech operations, regularly involves meetings with executives at major tech platforms who also follow and interact with his anonymous Twitter and Instagram accounts.

“They DM me, not knowing who I am: ‘OMG this industry is broken,’" he said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I know. Talk to you on Tuesday.’"

 

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