If you’re on Instagram and like to laugh, chances are that you follow FuckJerry. With over 12 million followers on Instagram alone, it’s one of most popular accounts on social.
If you don’t know FuckJerry, shame on you. Here is one of my favorite posts:
Like everyone else, I always look for the FuckJerry posts when I scroll through my Instagram feed. But last week, this post hit me like a lightning bolt.
I first chuckled at the meme but then when I looked closer, I realized it was a carefully placed ad for Malibu Rum. Wait a minute, who is FuckJerry anyway? Are they an ad agency? A dude in his basement? What is going on here?
Turns out it’s a whole team of people.
Elliot Tebele, the founder of FuckJerry, has turned his funny little posts into a big business. Originally started as an account to post cool pics, he pivoted to comedy and the rest is history. With 20 different accounts, 40 million followers across all social channels, a board game, and a digital media company, FuckJerry is becoming a media empire.
I had a chance to chat with Elliot Tebele and his team and we discussed his business, social media, and the future of advertising.
Ward: So how did you come up with the name, FuckJerry?
Tebele: When creating the Tumblr page I needed to come up with a name and at that time Seinfeld was playing on the TV so for whatever reason I just typed FuckJerry.
Ward: So how’d you start out?
Tebele: I started on Tumblr about 6 years ago and was posting mainly vintage photos and non comedic content. Around that time I checked out Instagram, like everyone else, and started posting similar content that i was posting to Tumblr. I would post a comedic post here and there and noticed the engagement was much higher than the other posts so it slowly evolved into a full fledged comedy account. @fuckjerry was one of the only meme accounts at the time and the account started to go viral from all of the engagement.
Ward: What were your goals starting out? Did you set out to be a big media company?
Tebele: (laughs) No. It started out as a hobby. I loved curating content and I loved seeing the followers go up. I spent a lot of my time working on little tricks to grow the page, and had a pretty strong hunch that having followers would be meaningful down the road. It sounds obvious now, but this all happened way before the whole influencer phenomenon came about.
As for the future of the company, I didn't spend much time thinking about that early on. I really only focused on growing the network and posting content people liked. I’d like thousands of pics a day on Instagram. Post links to the site everywhere: Facebook groups, anywhere. I was singularly focused on growth hacking.
Ward: That’s good for people to know that are starting out. That you didn’t just flip on the switch and have millions of followers.
Tebele: Not at all. First I had the Tumblr page and then I added Instagram. I really just focused on that. We didn’t add Facebook until years later. We used Instagram to create other accounts, and now we have 20 accounts with 40+ million followers.
Ward: Where do you get your content?
Tebele: Everywhere. We get a lot of submissions and emails. Tumblr is a great place. We make a lot of content in-house. Its a pretty broad strategy for producing and sourcing content. We go pretty deep in the dark web of the Internet to find funny stuff.
Ward: What’s the FuckJerry organization look like?
Tebele: We’ve got 20+ people in-house. We have one division that manages all the accounts and runs our social-first media company. Another group, Jerry Media, which is a full service digital marketing agency, that does everything from social media management, to media buying, to fully integrated marketing campaigns. We have product division that is working on non-media and marketing initiatives and is responsible for launching our latest board game, What Do You Meme, which is now the #1 best selling game on Amazon.
We all work under one roof and I think we'll try to keep it that way as long as we can. We like having a diverse group of people working on a bunch of stuff in the same office. That’s how our ecosystem works and we think its conducive to creativity and better work. Our success is due to their hard work. We also couldn't have built what we have today without my business partners. Special shout out to Elie Ballas, Ben Kaplan, James Ohliger, and Mick Purzycki.
Ward: Tell me about the media company.
Tebele: Yeah for sure. We're in a very unique position right now. We have over 40 million followers on our social media channels, and have very serious intentions of creating one of our generation's most meaningful media companies. We are tirelessly scrutinizing the entire media landscape, and are keeping tabs on all the other players in the space to see what they are doing well, and what they're doing not so well. We launched Jerry News recently, which has been in beta for the last year, and we are preparing to add a meaningful amount of resources into the venture and launch new content strategies that we believe will combat the negative trends like fake news that are plaguing news media and journalism across the board.
Ward: How do you pick brands to work with?
Tebele: We work with a broad range of companies —everything from movie studios to datings apps, to food companies, to mattress companies, and much more. We try not to discriminate too much when picking our partners, but we definitely prefer to work people who are passionate about what they are trying to accomplish. We care a lot about our company's work, and we enjoy working with people who are equally inspired.
Ward: What other brands do you look to for inspiration or are fans of?
Tebele: Wendy’s for sure. Whoever runs their Twitter is great. It creates a lot of organic reach because it gets reposted. I’ve reposted a lot of it. The way they respond to people is hilarious. Content wise, I think Denny’s is doing a great job: Weird, funny, great content.
Ward: Why have you guys been successful driving engagement with brands?
Tebele: We can communicate better with a young demo. We spend our whole day communicating to our millennial and Gen Z followers and have developed a very strong intuition as to what types of content, branded or not, that they like to consume. Lots of brands get into trouble when their senior team is a bit too old and doesn't know how to call the shots in this day and age. We see a lot of people that are failing to communicate in an efficient way with these younger folks. For us, it’s not forced; it’s organic. It’s who we are and how we live. Often times, we’re tapped to bring in a refreshing communication with brands and our audience; to bridge that gap. We also do some consulting on the side where we’re not creating content, we’re sifting through their content before a brand posts and giving it our blessing.
Ward: Where’s influencer marketing headed?
Tebele: People are finally realizing that it’s a massive opportunity. The Big Bang Theory is one of the most watched shows on primetime television. Advertisers are seeing between 2 - 5 million eyeballs during a commercial and they’re charging between $250,000 to $500,000 an ad. A FuckJerry ad, like the recent Malibu ad, is generating 8 million impressions. I’d also argue that people watching primetime TV live aren’t paying attention during the commercials; they’re much more likely checking their Instagram.
As for the way platforms are interacting with influencers, that is changing too. Google and YouTube are sharing ad revenue with their creators and Instagram is introducing new features that make influencer ads more transparent and ultimately more effective.
Ward: What do the next 5-10 years look like for FuckJerry?
Tebele: There are several companies on fire. For the media side we will continue to build out new media verticals and accounts, and expand to other areas of interest. We’ll continue to grow accounts like Beige Cardigan, a female focused account, to step outside of the male perspective and diversify our company's voice. For the agency, we’ll continue to create amazing content and grow our client base. On the gaming side, we don’t see "What Do You Meme" as a one off. We have a vision of creating a millennial focused Mattel or Hasbro.
This article originally appeared in Forbes on July 17, 2017. For full article click here.