What are memes?
According to Dictionary.com, a meme is a “cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc., that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way”. If you’re an active user of social media, you’ve probably come across a meme or two while scrolling through your newsfeed.
Memes might have started out as just one of the many strange things on the Internet but the phenomenon has grown to become much more than that. It’s time marketers started paying attention. Whether we like it or not, memes have become an integral part of how we communicate. In order to connect with the younger crowd, marketers need to speak their language – that means being fluent in meme.
Why should marketers care about memes?
We’ve got two words for you: hotline bling.
In 2015, rapper Drake released the music video for his song Hotline Bling. The video contained all the right ingredients for the perfect meme, with awkward dance moves and weird facial expressions. It was just begging to be meme-ified and the Internet helped fulfil its calling.
Make no mistake, Drake’s antics in the original video were well-calculated. The video was meant to appeal to Drake’s target audience: the younger generation raised on memes.
Did it work?
Hotline Bling has garnered more than 1.4 billion views on YouTube, over 700 million streams on Spotify and sold more than 7 million digital units to date. In other words, it worked.
For those of you uncomfortable with the idea of your brand becoming a meme, rest assured – you don’t have to go to those lengths. You can get a ton of attention and engagement by simply taking a current meme and putting your own spin on it. In fact, sharing repurposed jokes is the core of meme culture.
Here are a few things to note before you start using memes in your marketing strategy.
How to use memes in your marketing strategy
1. Never use an outdated meme
The first thing you should ask yourself is this: is the meme you’re planning to use still relevant? Are people still sharing it on the Internet?
In 2015, Wendy’s incorporated memes into one of their commercials. Unfortunately, the Like a Boss meme they used was already outdated.
The Internet never forgets.
Steer clear of memes that have waned in popularity. Posting an outdated meme is embarrassing and will do more harm than good to your brand. You don’t want to appear out of touch.
2. Know your memes
Using a meme wrongly is just as embarrassing.
McDonald’s UK made the mistake of using the “Barber meme”, meant to poke fun at ridiculous haircuts, without understanding its context.
Here’s how one would conventionally use the meme:
Here’s what McDonald’s did:
Him: Meet me at McDonald’s?
Barber: Say no more, fam. pic.twitter.com/Up7lkDqwPq
— McDonald’s UK (@McDonaldsUK) 22 February 2018
Don’t get the joke? Neither did everyone else. The only thing funny about this was McDonald’s failed attempt to jump on the bandwagon. Needless to say, McDonald’s became the brunt of the jokes that followed on Twitter.
To educate yourself on this strange world of Internet humour, check out Know Your Meme. Make sure you understand how a meme is meant to be used before actually using it. Don’t become the meme.
3. Know Your Audience
Yes, the cardinal rule of marketing still applies here. Using memes in your marketing will only work if your target audience is familiar with the culture. The younger generation will be able to understand, and even appreciate, your attempts to “speak” meme. If you’re targeting older folk, memes will most likely be lost on them. Make sure you know what kind of references your audience is familiar with before implementing your meme strategy.
4. Does it suit your brand voice?
Memes are generally more suitable for brands with a playful, less serious image. However, this also depends on your target audience. Some serious brands have managed to integrate memes into their campaigns without jeopardising their carefully cultivated image. One such brand is Gucci.
To promote their new collection of watches, the luxury brand launched their That Feeling When Gucci campaign (#TFWGucci) where they commissioned international artists to create original images and turned them into a collection of memes.
View this post on Instagram
#TFWGucci German artist collective @decorhardcore, born out of a desire to collect and curate strange pictures of furniture, is a creative endeavor run by magpie documentarians. Founder Ksenia Shestakovski and her collaborators make art that renders fantasy tangible, with starkly lit images of seemingly mundane artifacts like hotel beds, antique lamps, and elaborate doilies. The collective’s #TFWGucci pictures, haunting and memorable, are reminiscent of commercial furniture store catalogues: every vivid color and sharp corner oozes frenetic anticipation. @Beigecardigan turns the images into memes that reflect on the fashion world, where supposed ugliness can often become beauty. – Text by @helenh0lmes Discover more through link in bio.
Leave it to Gucci to turn Internet humour into art.
5. It’s all about being natural
We cringe at our parents’ attempts to use Internet slang but we don’t react the same way when our friends use the same words. That’s because it feels normal for your friend to use the word and your dad just feels “too old”. When it comes to marketing with memes, you want your brand to feel like the friend and not the dad.
How do you make it feel natural? Refer to points 3 and 4. Do memes suit your brand and target audience?
Another thing to note is that memes tend to require very specific contexts to work well. Therefore, you should ascertain if your messaging fits the meme instead of trying to force the meme to work for you. If you feel like you’re trying too hard to use a meme, chances are it’ll fall flat.
As members of the meme-savvy generation grow up and gain purchasing power, marketers should seriously consider memes as an alternative way to speak to this group. As Nelson Mandela once said:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”