Brands and memes

Viral branding. 
How brands use memes successfully.

Brands, memes and the zeitgeist

Memes are zeitgeist-driven and condensed units of information that vie for attention and brain time and ultimately must be transferred from one brain to another. As cultural instructions, they simplify complex contexts, guide our attention, and thus instruct us with what meaning to attach to something. 

In a grand sweep, the author shows that brands are composed of memes, and each brand strives to capture our attention and occupy as much time as possible in our brains. Via their unique iconography and coding, they convey to us ideas, notions, behaviors, or belief systems that we (need to) talk about, making them easily transferable from one brain to the next. We have learned implicitly through memes – and without having to think about it for a moment – what a brand means to us, what it stands for, what it can do for us, and how it changes our lives.

Viral branding

How brands use memes successfully

Some ideas and brands go viral in a very short time, but others do not. This book explains what memes are and how they are created and how brands can successfully use memes for themselves.

How viral phenomena emerge and spread

Some ideas or brands spread around the globe in a very short time. Thomas Zerlauth explains what causes the competition of the fittest thoughts and why some information goes viral and replicates more easily than others. In doing so, he takes the perspective of the information fighting for its own transmission. His book describes the evolutionary success principles of longevity, fertility and replication accuracy and shows how they entice people to resonate and share.

Practical examples from branding, marketing and politics are used to illustrate how brands use successful memes to place themselves in people’s minds.


1. Auflage Juni 2023
ISBN 978-3-648-16938-4
Verlag Haufe
Lector: Peter Böke

Virale Markenbildung. Wie Marken Memes erfolgreich nutzen. Autor: Thomas Zerlauth


What are memes?

Please let go of the idea that a meme is nothing more than a funny or satirical saying mounted on an attention-grabbing or well-known image. As long as you mentally adhere to this very limited notion, you will miss out on the narrative and psychic energy that memes contain. 

Memes are – at least when they are successful – compressed and to the point stories that burn themselves into your brain and “force” it to deal with them and pass them on in one form or another. As a result, information, ideas and concepts – comparable to biological or computer viruses – literally go viral and are fed into the collective consciousness fields of families, groups, countries, nations or humanity as a whole. The collective consciousness defines what a society focuses its attention on, what is important to it, what significance it gives to which things and in which future version it is moving.

Memes are not just simple images that serve general amusement or describe a personal state of mind or current life situation. Rather, they express ideas about the world we live in in a very diverse, complex and creative way. The outer world as it subjectively presents itself and the inner world, which can be understood as our emotional or philosophical reaction to it.

Memes are a “language” of their own and exceedingly fascinating mediators of meaning, culture, and significance – zeitgeist-driven tools to guide and weave the mind into the matrix of the collective dream or out of these entanglements and into a more vivid vision of the future. Thus, memes are currently still far too little deciphered, but central active forces of any branding, whose task is essentially to wrap a brand with meaningful and implicit levels of meaning. A large part of these codes and meaning conveying mechanisms target people’s subconscious. They provide consumers with orientation and an intuitive feeling. Brands are neither saviors nor do they necessarily have morals – yet they touch us deep inside and create a magical space of participation, resonance and transformation. Memes play a central role in this process because they are important and elegant tools to nestle in people’s minds for the long term and spread from there. This book is all about the competition of the fittest ideas and practices seeing the world from the memes’ point of view and asking the question which factors ensure their survival and thus make them successful.


© Thomas Zerlauth (Introduction from the book: Virale Markenbildung)


In brand development, this extended understanding of how the human mind works still receives far too little attention. However, we must try to understand why some thoughts succeed in captivating us to such an extent that we really succumb to them.

Memes are the fabric from which our culture is woven

Thoughts – and this is important to note – do not follow controllable and consciously induced decisions, but they come over us. Memes are ideas, conceptions and unconscious agreements of the mind. Information that is drilled into us, that we mostly unconsciously adopt and just as unconsciously pass on. You could also call them mind viruses that keep our minds in motion and us trapped in a Big Dream we call collective consciousness, ideosphere, or culture.