It’s all about the memes.
Prior to the internet, a meme was a phrase coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 publication “The Selfish Gene”. It referred to a “package of culture” and included elements such as music, fashion and patterns of speech. It makes sense that this phrase would then become the title for humorous pop culture referencing images, videos and pieces of text that spread rapidly via the internet. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation” (Dawkins). The modern meme consists of everything from the planking phenomenon, shit people say videos, hashtags and those familiar images with slightly different text overlayed, such as “ain’t nobody got time for that” and “one does not simply”. These latter memes are actually called macros. In reality, any package of popular digital culture can be dubbed a meme.
Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? Launched in America in the heat of summer, when a cold bucket of water dunked on your head sounds quite nice, this campaign became a worldwide trend. Celebrities jumped on the PR opportunity, encouraging their loyal fans to join them. Bored everyday folk jumped on the bandwagon, grasping at the opportunity to be popular and trendy and, perhaps, seen to be supporting a social cause. Brand Quarterly have gone so far as to suggest that this campaign was the launching point for memes, from inside jokes to mainstream culture.
As these are highly interactive, often humorous and engaging, memes are the perfect tool for marketing agents. Whether it’s jumping on an established bandwagon, such as Lululemon’s “Shit Yogis Say” video, or encouraging customers to engage with the brand identity, such as Captain Morgan’s Pose Off, memes are powerful tools of communication. Often it is the simplicity of these memes and their humorous tones, the allowance of sharing that leads to them becoming viral hits. Quite simply, they are easy to consume. They are trendy, recognizable and relatable. They are familiar, as they engage popular culture, and they allow the viewer a feeling of connectivity through social engagement, or because of an inner message that links them to other like-minded people. The relevancy of memes in marketing is pertinent. The easy and enjoyable content is simple and quick for viewers to enjoy, it engages them and encourages them to engage others by sharing, commenting and tagging friends. Relevant and humorous memes will be shared, extending your online reach and, hopefully, bringing people back to your page.
The downside of a meme is that they generally have a short lifespan. As they’re continuously chopped and changed, your meme is probably not going to be the hot flavour for long. They are the down, quick and dirty method of attracting attention though. Jumping on a bandwagon of a popular meme is referred to as ‘memejacking’. This can be either effective, utilising the current trends, or, if left too late or handled incorrectly, a misfire that has you coming off looking pretty lame. As memes heavily rely on humour and pop culture, it’s important to understand the meme before utilising it. Memes aren’t just off the cuff words and pretty pictures, they’re a representation of cultural elements, moments in time, movements and people. The last thing your business needs is a racist or undesirable reputation because someone posted something they didn’t quite understand. It’s important to know your meme before posting it. BrandsSayingBae is a delightful Twitter account showcasing the wrong way to use memes.
Like many marketing tools, it’s as much about the tool and the timing as the audience’s reaction. Oreo single-handily won the Super Bowl XLVIII ratings because of a well-timed tweet when the stadium went unexpectedly dark, causing a 34-minute delay in the television broadcast. 15,000 retweets because of a well-timed meme. Norwegian Airlines hit the right note when they delivered this advertisement soon after the Pitt/Jolie split announcement. They continually delivered memes of this vanity for some time, inserting themselves into a conversation they would not normally be privy too. Ruffles, a U.S. potato chip company memejacked a popular “Hey Arnold!” meme, showcasing their understanding of both the meme and a large portion of their audience. Anthony Rubio, a pet adoption advocate, reworded the earworm “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in order to encourage others to adopt. The true wonder of memes is the flexibility they allow. The possibilities are quite endless. The potential to become viral high. Memes may seem like a passing fad, a chuckle and snigger and worth nothing more, but in truth, memes are powerful marketing tools. They’re the modern age propaganda.
- Ashayla Webster, Social Community Manager