The proliferation of Internet has accelerated the dissemination of information, thereby creating the term “Internet meme”. Shifman defined Internet meme as digital content with common features—such as online images and videos—that are created by Internet users and spread, mimicked, and modified through the Internet instantly. The term has been further used to describe objects that become viral in no time [1
]. Wiggins and Bowers define Internet memes as spreadable media that have been remixed or parodied as emergent memes which are then iterated and spread online as memes [2
]. Our definition of the internet meme is mostly explicated by Shifman. Nowadays, most Facebook users likely encounter a meme and/or distribute a meme daily [2
]. In practice, companies use Internet memes to design advertisements because of its low costs and high dissemination rate [3
]. The marketing pattern based on a meme for promoting products or services is termed as “meme marketing” [4
]. Social network is one of the pivotal media that rapidly spread Internet meme, according to the statistics provided [5
] by Libra and Cheetah Lab, the big data platform of Cheetah Data. Facebook (FB) ranks first among the social network applications downloaded in Taiwan, with a weekly active penetration rate of 69.77% (weekly number of active users of the app/total weekly number of active users of all Android apps in Taiwan), weekly opening counts per person of 169.93, compared to Instagram, which ranks second, with a weekly active penetration rate of 21.03% and weekly opening counts per person of 77.03. Thus, FB dominates the social network. According to a survey conducted by the data analysis firm [6
], the advertisement revenue of FB in 2016 reached USD 26.9 billion, an increase of USD 9.8 billion over 2015, making it the second largest advertisement platform worldwide. Some companies that use online groups generate enormous revenues by selling meme-related products to millions of users on the websites [7
]. Many marketers have started using Internet meme as an marketing approach to attract consumers to repost and spread the word; however, lack of literature prevails on whether Internet meme marketing can effectively influence the values and attitudes of consumers and further strengthen their purchase intention, thereby leading to the motivation of this study. The study defines consumers attracted by Internet memes as those who notice Internet memes on social network and like, share, and comment on such posts, as well as purchase relevant items.
Value–attitude–behavior model (VAB) mainly discusses how value affects attitude and purchasing behavior [8
]. VAB model is supported by empirical studies on a number of consuming scenarios [9
] such as the choice of recreational activities [10
] and shopping at malls [11
]. Subjective value leads to the formation of values through consumers during the social and psychological development and affects behaviors through attitudes [12
]. Babin et al. assessed and differentiated consumption value from two dimensions, namely, utilitarian and hedonic values [13
]. Batra and Ahtola differentiated utilitarian and hedonic attitudes on the basis of the consumer behaviors [14
]. Purchase intention refers to the possibility of consumers buying products [15
]. Fishbein and Ajzen pointed out that if consumers held a positive attitude toward a product, the purchase intention comes into existence when a demand for that product prevails [16
]. Mullet and Karson also believed that once consumers generated a specific attitude toward products or brands, an additional external factor would lead to their purchase intention [17
]. On the basis of the aforementioned studies, it can be inferred that consumers develop a positive attitude toward products to begin with, and then comes the purchase intention.
In light of the aforementioned details, we center on the VAB model to discuss how the utilitarian and hedonics value generated by Internet memes affect the development of utilitarian and hedonic attitudes, which further affect consumers’ purchase intention. The study is expected to shed light on whether Internet memes lead to actual consumption, or it is simply an eye-catching trick that yields no results.
3.1. Research Framework
We selected the VAB as its basis. Based on the literature review, Figure 1
presents the research framework for investigating the relationships between utilitarian value, hedonic value, utilitarian attitude, hedonic attitude, and purchase intention in Taiwanese FB users. First, we investigated whether the utilitarian or hedonic value generated by consumers effects utilitarian attitude or hedonic attitude, and further investigated whether it effects the purchase intention.
3.2. Questionnaire Design
Utilitarian value in the study is defined as the value that determines whether Internet memes create functional interests and value for consumers. The study refers to the research reports of Babin et al. and Wang et al. and designs three items for this part [13
]. Hedonic value in this study is defined as the value that determines whether Internet memes deliver agreeable and fun experience to consumers. It refers to the research reports of Babin et al. and Wang et al. and designs five items for this part [13
Utilitarian attitude in this study is defined as attitudes wherein Internet memes would lead consumers to generate functional attitude toward products. The study refers to the research reports of Voss et al. and designs three items for this part [45
]. Hedonic attitude in this study is defined as the attitude wherein Internet memes would lead consumers to generate agreeable and fun attitude toward products. The study refers to the research report of Voss et al. and designs four items for this part [45
]. Purchase intention of this study is defined as the free will of consumers to choose and purchase. The study refers to the research reports of Baker and Churchill, Pavlou, and Chen and Chang and designs three items for this part [46
The aforementioned measuring variables have been included in the questionnaire design. Except for the demographic variables (i.e., gender, age, and education), all other variables were measured on a 5-point Likert scale consisting of strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree, and strongly agree, scoring from 1 to 5. The higher the score of an item, the more the interviewee perceives or agrees to the item.
3.3. Sample Size and Composition
The study chose FB users as research participants and conducted a pilot test among 50 FB users before carrying out the formal survey to ensure the questionnaire to be clear, robust, and thorough. On the basis of the results of the pilot test, a portion of the wording of the questionnaire has been amended. Regarding the formal questionnaire, the data were collected between October and December 2018 in Taiwan. Convenience sampling was adopted to conduct an online survey among FB users, although it may cause sample bias. Among the 412 responses received, 32 were deleted for excessive missing data. Thus, a total of 380 responses were used for the analysis.
We have performed sample structural analysis over 380 valid questionnaires to understand the basic information of the samples. Among the valid samples of the study, there are 218 (57%) females and 162 (43%) males; the majority (59%) of the interviewees age 21–30; and these respondents were mainly college graduates (55%).
3.4. Data Analysis
Data analyses conducted in this research included descriptive analyses, confirmatory factor analysis, and structural equation modeling. Descriptive statistics comprised the means and standard deviations of utilitarian value, hedonic value, utilitarian attitude, hedonic attitude, and purchase intention. Confirmatory factor analysis was performed to assess the validity of the measures using SPSS Amos version 23 (IBM, Armonk, NY, USA). The hypothesized relationships were tested using the structural equation model.
According to the aforementioned literature, utilitarian benefits of the interactivity of websites include saving time and energy, reducing risks, and possibly having better options [36
]. Moreover, the interactivity of websites also brings about hedonic benefits [37
]. The interactivity of websites is believed to be able to strengthen the attitude toward online store, leading consumers to browse and re-browse the website or shop online [38
]. Thus, the study extends to the marketing approach of Internet meme adopted on social network and infers that its utilitarian and hedonic values might enhance consumers’ attitude toward online stores. A portion of the validities and reliabilities of the utilitarian value are relatively low, suggesting weaker explanatory power. In light of this, the study reasons out that consumers attracted by Internet memes care less about the utilitarian value, such as saving time and reducing risks; they are more concerned about the hedonic effects of Internet memes, such as entertainment. Utilitarian and hedonic values exert significant and positive impacts on utilitarian and hedonic attitudes. Accordingly, we infer that after consumers formulate value toward Internet memes, the formulation of attitude is actually influenced. Moreover, it can be revealed that utilitarian value is more conducive to the formulation of utilitarian attitude, while hedonic value is more conducive to the formulation of hedonic attitude. Further, the possible reason for this is the identical nature of the value and attitude affecting the respective formulation.
Previous literature has revealed that the behaviors of consumers are driven by utilitarian and hedonic motives [35
]. Some other scholars also have stated that when shopping, the utilitarian and hedonic attitudes of consumers have positive impacts on their behavioral intention [45
]. The study extends it to the discussion of the effects of meme marketing, and the results prove that utilitarian and hedonic attitudes have positive and significant impacts on the purchase intention.
The study believes that Internet memes are indeed effective in their approach of engaging consumers, and shops mainly use witty content blended with popular current affairs to compose an Internet meme. Consumers are actually attracted to this marketing approach rather than to the products. This can also be seen in the findings of this study where the validities of utilitarian value are relatively low. In fact, it can be inferred that the utilitarian value of Internet memes is less noticed by consumers. For example, recently, Travel Frog, a phenomenal mobile game had gone viral in Japan and China, which was downloaded through App store for more than 10 million times; it had topped the free game ranking in China. The fan page of the National Palace Museum Shop made a collection of marketing graphic with frog relics featuring this trend, leading to more than 1000 reposts and an increase in the exposure of the fan page. This campaign does not aim to promote the commodities of the National Palace Museum Shop, but it is meant for branding. One can observe on the Internet that shops using Internet memes seldom focus on the value of their products; attention is paid to the hedonic value to engage consumers, as the increase of exposure can lead more potential consumers to know about the brand.
As a result, various forms and content of memes might attract various customer groups. Hence, the study suggests that marketers should develop different forms of memes according to the relevant customer groups. For example, for products focusing on function, if a meme design is deviated to the hedonic value, it might not be able to capture the attention of the consumers who are in need of their utilitarian value. On the contrary, for the design of products or brands that are rich in hedonic value, if the campaign is limited to the introduction of their utilitarian value, it fails to attract a large number of consumers through hedonic value. The speedy permeation of Internet memes among online communities is partly due to the humorous “punchlines.” The so-called punchlines can only attract consumers who understand it; otherwise, it will be ignored as useless information by consumers who do not understand them while browsing through their feeds. Therefore, it is suggested that marketers should ensure that the punchline used in their meme can be understood by the consumers they want to attract, along with guaranteeing that it is in trend. Marketers should not ignore target customers for the sake of trend, or marketing costs will be unnecessarily wasted.
Moreover, even though Internet memes do not cost a fortune, the course of designing memes can generate costs such as personnel costs. Thus, if the design is unclear, it will result in the waste of money or even in demoralizing employees because of the lackluster performance. This study can provide fact-based hints to marketers when designing Internet memes, preventing them from designing and launching new Internet memes without any considerations about the factors affecting the consumers’ purchase intentions. The results suggest that consumers care less about the utilitarian value of the products or services marketed through Internet memes. Therefore, companies can pay more attention to the hedonic value of Internet memes in the process of designing and create some fun and humorous memes to attract consumers. Moreover, the memes need not introduce the products or services; however, witty Internet memes can be used to perform branding.