The evidence against Pikachu grew, but to play the devil's advocate, I have to point out that viral memes can indeed appear out of nowhere and bring financial gain. The "Who Killed Hannibal?" For example, memes with comedian Hannibal Buress were not caused by any news event. Shortly after this meme went viral, we're seeing a surge in people searching for Hannibal's name, which undoubtedly gave his career at least a modest boost.
However, there are key differences between Hannibal and Pikachu. Hannibal didn't want to start a new film or special. So if this meme was a marketing campaign, the timing was bad. While Hannibal is likely doing fine, he lacks the marketing resources of Warner Bros., who set out to build a new movie and merchandise franchise. "Who killed Hannibal?" comes from the Eric Andre Show, a low-budget series by Adult Swim. Detective Pikachu had a huge marketing budget with ties to Burger King, Nintendo, and 7-Eleven.
"Who killed Hannibal?" seems to be one of the many examples where a screenshot from a slice of pop culture is taken from the internet and catapulted into viral meme status. This is what makes it so attractive to use memes for stealth action: who would ever notice when so many memes are already from pop culture?
Stealth internet marketing is a thriving industry. Finding companies that can pay you to post social media on artificial turf doesn't take much research. This type of small-scale manipulation has been around for a while, but I suspect these companies have reached a new level in mass meme marketing in recent years.
Meme-based marketing campaigns may be a gamble, but with high risk comes high rewards. Let's talk about hypotheses: $ 100,000 – probably just a tiny fraction of Detective Pikachu's marketing budget – would be enough to fund a small team to spend two months working on such a campaign. Facebook ads can cost $ 10 per 1,000 views. If the surprised Pikachu meme received 90 million views (which is likely a huge underestimate) that equates to $ 900,000 in publicity.
Was Surprised Pikachu an ad campaign? If so, was Angela – the original poster – involved in this program from the beginning, or was her good idea borrowed from others and promoted profitably? (I reached them through Tumblr but didn't get a response.) I'm afraid I cannot give final judgments on these questions. I'm just a data detective – I live by the statistician code and I will never claim anything with 100% certainty.
However, I am 95 percent convinced that this meme was the most successful stealth marketing campaign of 2018.
But I could be wrong.
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