Yash Bhatia

Memes matter: The language of India’s 22% voters

Young voters, especially those in the 18-29 age group, used memes to interpret and analyse the high drama surrounding the 2024 General Elections.

This year's Lok Sabha elections witnessed unprecedented engagement from the younger generation, a demographic traditionally perceived as less interested in politics. 

The significant increase in youth participation is somehow attributed to the fierce competition between parties in this election, and the majority of the credit should be given to the widespread use of memes that heightened interest among young voters. 

Memes played a crucial role in sparking discussions and keeping the younger audience engaged and informed. 

To connect with the meme world, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hired many meme marketing agencies such as Acquaint Consultants.

This year’s election marked a notable shift in digital strategies, with 'official' political spending on Google increasing from Rs 1.177 crore in 2019 to a staggering Rs 130 crore this year.

This year, political parties also made extensive use of WhatsApp groups. According to a report by Deccan Herald, the BJP managed approximately 50 lakh WhatsApp groups in 2024.

Additionally, the Election Commission of India, a constitutional body, leveraged memes to engage with voters, especially the younger generation.

Did memes drive youth engagement in the elections?

A. Aziz Khan, co-founder and CRO of RVCJ Digital Media, a meme marketing agency, says that memes tap into the human desire for humour and relatability, making them more shareable and effective among audiences. 

He adds that political parties use memes to convey messages, shape public opinion and mobilise support. 

A. Aziz Khan, cofounder and CRO of RVCJ Digital
A. Aziz Khan, cofounder and CRO of RVCJ Digital

“Parties disseminate memes on WhatsApp groups to reach a wider audience. However, the use of memes also draws criticism as there are no guidelines or ethics to regulate it,” he highlights. 

Deepan Ramachandran, founder of Mind Your Language!, an ad agency specialising in the South Indian market, believes that memes should be ethical, but the whole concept of memes is to go beyond rules, regulations and ethics.

He gave an example: if a particular political party puts out communication targeting other political parties, they will be held accountable for it.

Deepan Ramachandran, founder of Mind Your Language!
Deepan Ramachandran, founder of Mind Your Language!

However, in the case of memes, they may orchestrate them, yet they are not held accountable for them.

Memes are primarily seen as popular among Gen Z and millennials, but they also have a significant following among Gen X and boomers.

However, the older generation engages with memes differently, often through WhatsApp groups. There's a lot of cross-pollination of memes across age groups, especially during elections.

Ramachandran believes that memes can also influence voter behaviour for a generation that is not politically savvy. He adds that a majority of the younger generation just vote for the sake of uploading a post on social media.

“When a picture of a particular candidate is painted through memes repeatedly, it psychologically creates a perception about that candidate in that generation. In that way, it can be effective for the parties,” he adds. 

Of the total 970 million Indian voters, 21-22% were in the age group of 18-29. This generation understands meme language, and political parties can communicate with this generation through memes.

One key advantage memes hold over traditional campaigns is their tendency for shareability and creating a viral effect. They can complement traditional methods.

With memes gaining popularity, Meta’s Instagram has announced updates to its recommendation algorithm for reels. The new algorithm will prioritise ‘original content’ over reposted content. The new decision can impact meme pages as memes created by them use content that already exists on the Internet.

Khan states that the recent decision will affect meme pages since they mainly repost content. This will heighten competition, necessitating meme pages to generate more original content.

"While these changes may decrease engagement for pages relying heavily on reposts, they will also present opportunities for meme pages focused on original content. The algorithm update will require meme pages to adapt their strategies to prioritise originality and add value beyond simply reposting content," he highlights.

Ramachandran also believes that this decision will affect meme owners, as they will now be less tempted to reuse memes.

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