Success Kid Super Bowl Ad for success kid meme story

Offical Super Bowl 2015 Commercial/Youtube

The ‘Success Kid’ meme, explained

It all started with an innocent photo of a baby at the beach.


Alexandra Samuels


Posted on Nov 30, 2023

Amongst all the memes that have taken hold of the internet, there are some classic ones that never get old. One of those is the “success kid” meme, featuring a small child with a raised closed fist and sports an “oh yeah!” facial expression. 

Here, we’ll walk you through the story of how the meme originated, where the “success kid” is now, and how the media has treated him and his family since the photo went viral.

Where did the meme originate?

In August 2017, Laney Griner took a photo of her son clenching a fistful of sand. She then uploaded it to her personal Flickr account, in part, because she thought it was a cute shot. Then it started to spread. According to Know Your Meme, the image first made its rounds on MySpace, but quickly became available elsewhere. 

In 2011, internet users captioned the meme “I Hate Sandcastles.” It initially suggested that the child in the photo had destroyed another kid’s sandcastle. Eventually, the interpretation of the image changed, however, and internet users began to see the boy’s facial expression and clenched fist as a sign of self-congratulation. Griner, for her part, has said that she disliked the “I Hate Sandcastles” meme because of its negativity. She’s since embraced the “Success Kid” concept.

Even for the non-Chronically Online, this meme was everywhere. Some reports even claim that the “Success Kid” was the most-searched meme in 2012. Part of that was due to the fact that Laney Griner licensed the image to various advertisers, including Vitamin Water, Virgin Mobile, and T-shirts sold at Hot Topic, among other things. Even politicians used it. In 2013, President Barack Obama and his team used the meme to make a point about immigration reform.

And, in 2015, the family patriarch, Justin Griner, was in need of a kidney transplant. To help raise money for his surgery, the family used the meme to promote a GoFundMe page, which ended up raising over $100,000.

Where is the Success Kid’ now?

Enough time has passed now that the people whose faces we recognize from viral memes are ready to either embrace their stardom—or are old enough to articulate what it’s like growing up internet famous. 

In an interview with BuzzFeed Video, the “Success Kid,” whose real name is Sam Griner, recounted his virality. “It’s weird to be famous as a baby,” he said. Now, though, he’s just like any other teenager. Sam Griner told the New Statesman in a 2016 interview that he “enjoys skateboarding and hanging around with his friends at weekends.” At the time, he said he was getting home-schooled by his mom after getting in trouble “for talking during class and for high-fiving a classmate in the hallway.” 

Is he a fan of the meme?

Sam Griner is happy that the meme helped saved his dad. But he doesn’t want to be associated with it forever. He also doesn’t want to take photos with fans posing as his 11-month-old self.

“The only thing I’m happy for now with that picture is because it saved my dad from dying,” he said. “He could’ve died so that’s the only time I’m happy—not when people say, ‘Oh, take a picture with me.’ I’m just happy because I probably wouldn’t have a dad anymore.”

Are people still talking about Success Kid’ today? 

It’s certainly not being used as often as it once was, but that hasn’t stopped the Griner family from staying in the limelight. In 2020, Laney Griner made news after sending a cease and desist to right-wing Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King for using the image in fundraising efforts. 

“Just so it’s clear – I have/would never give permission for use of my son’s photo to promote any agenda of this vile man or that disgusting party,” she wrote in a post to X.

So while there might not be a resurgence in popularity with the “Success Kid” meme due to its age, we’ll all cherish our fond memories of sharing different versions of the “Success Kid” with each other.

Share this article
*First Published: Nov 30, 2023, 1:16 pm CST