The Meme-ification of Finance

Finance is – quite rightly – a very strictly regulated industry. It also has much in the way of associated prestige and power: think historical buildings and shining skyscrapers with swanky tech and well-heeled executives. But we cannot ignore the cultural currency that newer iterations of the industry command. In the West alone there are standout examples.

On the one hand, the UK is facing serious questions about the future strength of its financial services industry as the EU shores up strength. On the other hand (and other side of the Atlantic), amateur retail investors, rallied by a Reddit thread, turned stock investments into a game, crusade, curiosity, or farce depending on your view. Not to be outdone, Elon Musk’s Twitter feed is now awash with memes promoting Dogecoin – a cryptocurrency started as a joke. In true 2020-21 style, if something can become stranger, it will.

Britain is no stranger to 'meme-investors' like those behind GameStop either. In the Telegraph, Marianna Hunt explores the more placid UK scene, which isn't out for blood as much as some of its American cousins were so recently. And while the ire of those out to take down Wall Street might not be wholly effectual or sustainable as a means of revolution, Merryn Somerset-Webb in the Financial Times makes a compelling case for the power of small investors to influence corporate behaviour.

These developments in the industry are illustrative of the power of memes, in both senses of the word:

  1. “an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.”

  2. “an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations.” (Oxford Languages definitions.)

Once the domain of popular culture and select corners of the internet, memes have now hit professional industries that are, in part, reliant on reputations associated with power, gravity, and intellect. Think of the influence that one trillionaire or a group of digital netizens have already exerted over popular behaviour towards and cultural perception of finance – which already has image issues.

J7 is keenly aware of how public influence and digital trends must be factored into both short- and long-term brand, business, and communication strategies. If Executives and regulators are not also keeping an eye on these shifting sands, they would do well to begin.