‘That’s How Mafia Works’ Meme Explained: Viral Fad Born of Terrible Instagram Ads

“That's how mafia works.” That statement has become one of the biggest memes of early 2019, showing up all over the web in YouTube comments, tweets and Instagram captions. Joining Big Chungus, a chunky screenshot of Bugs Bunny, this mafia quote has dominated the 2019 meme scene.

What is “That's How Mafia Works”?

There's a mobile game called Mafia City, where players level up buildings and amass a criminal underground network on their phones or tablets. It's more Sim City than GTA V . The game is fairly simple and not very visually appealing, so the marketing and PR departments had to get a bit clever. Ads on Instagram and Snapchat for Mafia City usually follow a simple formula: a low level avatar does something crazy, earning themselves tons of cash, cars and guns, transforming them into a high level mob boss.

The ads vary in ridiculousness. One has a “level 20” character slamming the heads of “level one” characters sitting on their knees with a frying pan. Another has a cat chilling over a pile of money, wearing Elton John glasses and a gold chain. The ads are meant to convey the level of power a player can feel by playing the game but just end up making very little sense.

At the start of these clips, a goateed man in a suit with a comb over signals at the screen with a world balloon saying “that's how mafia works.” The ads are ridiculous and have become the target for many an online commentator looking for easy laughs. One of the first to notice these absurd ads is YouTuber Slazo, who's video has pulled in half a million views in under two weeks. “It may not be how reality works, but that's how mafia does it bro,” Slazo said.

From there the meme started to grow. Parodies of the ad started to pop up, replacing the mafia bosses with dogs,YouTubers and Rick and Morty compilations. Pewdiepie brought the meme to the attention of his army of nine-year-olds, performing the catch phrase in front of a green screen so his fans can put him wherever they want.

Memes have a life cycle that's hard to predict. Ugandan Knuckles blew up in early 2018, but disappeared from the public mindset after a few weeks. Bowsette, the fan fiction version of Bowser wearing a crown that swapped his gender, is still getting Twitter traffic months after the original comic released. “That's how mafia works” is a fun saying, but it's also a look at how games advertise themselves in 2019. Mafia City is a mindless clicker with building mechanics and does not contain any frying pan murder or torture. If the game actually advertised it's gameplay in these five second ads, it wouldn't attract nearly as many players.

January 2019: Big Chungus and Mafia City win the meme awards.