Social media managers and marketers always try to find the best way to get their brand heard. Those in the marketing industry craft content that engages customers and builds better brand loyalty.
But what happens when marketers rely on popular culture references to connect to a broader group of people? Some companies can execute this perfectly and create truly engaging marketing campaigns. However, other businesses can swing and miss by relying on something like a marketing meme to help their brand go viral.
What Even Is a Meme?
We know you’ve heard the term thrown around the Internet, but what are memes? A meme is an image, video, phrase or some combination of a visual and bolded, capitalized text that is virally shared across social media networks and blogs. They typically have a somewhat hidden meaning that speaks about a popular culture reference. Memes are meant to be funny and most importantly, a piece of satire.
Memes have been around for years, but they have certainly evolved over time due the culture that surrounds Internet humor. In fact, with the rise of Twitter, more memes are turning into phrases instead of common meme images. Other popular memes go even further than standard images by using video editing and photoshop skills to make a meme that can be shared on all social media platforms.
Memes are also extremely interchangeable. There are specific types of meme phrases and images that are well known. But usually the content relies on users to create new phrases with the image to be relevant to specific audiences, interests or trends.
What You Need to Know About Memes
For most social media managers, you’ve been aware of memes for sometime. However, there are some important things you need to know about them before you even consider adding this viral approach to your marketing strategy.
Memes Have a Short Lifespan
Memes tend to live a very short lifespan. In fact, most memes get pretty old after you see it a few times, which is why the text is often so interchangeable. Memes are meant to provide a quick and clever snippet on some pop culture aspect, which helps them become viral. However, before you know it, a meme could have went its full cycle on the Internet and is now irrelevant.
The YouTube feed PBS Idea Channel dives even deeper into why people get tired of hearing or seeing Internet memes, and why some cannot even last throughout the week. There’s a real disparity between making a meme to be in the so-called “Internet cool-kids club” or just to try and be funny.
Know the Term ‘Memejacking’
One marketing term that comes up a lot with memes is “memejacking.” According to Business News Daily, this is when brands use previously created memes in their own marketing strategy. Brands tend to do this when they want to reach a younger audience, but it’s not easy to do.
Memejacking is a risky move because you will either ride the wave of the viral post or you will seem like you’re trying too hard. However, this strategy is one of the most popular uses of Internet humor for marketing campaigns. The majority of examples in this article could be considered memejacking.
Memes Heavily Rely on Humor
Like we said before, most memes are supposed to be funny. And because several memes have a sarcastic or satirical approach, it can be difficult for your entire audience to understand. If you think a meme could work in your marketing favor, you have to ask yourself a very serious question–Are you that funny?
Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of brands that invoke humor and engage their customer base with weird, satirical humor. Just look at brands on Twitter like Old Spice, Totinos or Charmin that significantly invest in humor-based social campaigns. In fact, a report by WebSearchSocial said comedy is one of the best ways for marketers to get their customers to let down their guard with a brand.
On the other hand, humor is not for everyone or every business, which means as a social media manager, you have to know what you’re getting into when it comes to viral content.
When bae texts “I’m making Helper.” pic.twitter.com/sGeLp7pNbM
— Helper (@helper) September 27, 2014
If you want to make sure your meme isn’t offensive or off-base, check out the Twitter handle Brands Saying Bae for some poorly executed marketing memes.
Memes Produce Immediate Reactions
This can be good or really bad. Because memes rely so much on humor, it’s somewhat easy to miss the mark or come off inappropriate or insensitive. As you know with anything involving the Internet, there’s plenty of offensive viral content on the Web. But as a social marketer, you have to be careful not to damage your brand in attempts of going viral. Memes produce immediate reactions because they are:
- Easy to read
- Simple to digest
- To the point
- Aim for the quick laugh
Know Your Meme
Your audience can run away with a great meme or turn it into an embarrassing campaign. This is why you have to know your meme and some of the connotations behind it. You can use sites like KnowYourMeme.com or Meme Generator to find more information on the most popular memes out there. However, if you plan to use it in your marketing campaign, make sure you choose something that will not make you seem out of touch or that has been widely unpopular some time.
— Spirit Airlines (@SpiritAirlines) July 20, 2015
There are some memes that have longer lifecycles than others, but you need to be certain that your content will relate and do well with your own audience. You should try to avoid posting viral content continuously just to be funny. Like any joke, it’s all in the delivery.
Where Memes Have Gone With Marketing
While memes typically rely on popular topics, characters, phrases or ideas, some businesses are going their own direction to uniquely created viral concepts. At its core, a meme should engage the reader and that’s why so many businesses want to use highly shareable Internet content to drive larger audiences.
Several memes have evolved over the last few years from simple image-based content, to either video content (gifs) or just simple phrases. The best thing to know about memes is they are constantly changing.
Who Uses Them?
There’s actually a good amount of major businesses that rely on memes and other viral content to help drive their social media presence. For example, Denny’s has come out as one of the most viral, Internet culture-based and odd companies on social media. But strangely enough, it has revamped its brand by creating humorous and engaging content.
you used to call me on my burger phone 🙁
— Denny’s (@DennysDiner) October 6, 2015
In this instance, Denny’s recreated Drake lyrics right after the immensely popular song Hotline Bling was released. It’s silly, funny, trending and getting a lot of Likes and Retweets. Other brands such as Wonderful Pistachios has replicated actual memes into its own commercials.
In this example, the commercial is based on the Keyboard Cat meme, a YouTube viral sensation that has received over 24.3 million views. This is a perfect use of memejacking because the commercial uses the same theme and content as the viral meme to drive nearly 3 million unique brand YouTube views on its own.
Another company that heavily relies on memes to push their brand is Jimmy John’s. Its Twitter feed is full of different popular Internet memes that revolve around Jimmy John’s sandwiches.
When you find out your friends aren’t lying about $1 sub day at participating Jimmy John’s pic.twitter.com/asMSrfd4UF
— Jimmy John's (@jimmyjohns) May 2, 2017
Should You Use Memes?
Here’s the real question—should your brand engage with your audience through memes? The answer honestly depends on how in-tune you are with your customers. Brands like Hot Pockets, White Castle and Hamburger Helper have fully embraced the uniqueness of marketing memes.
Quit asking me “WHAT ARE THOSE?” Kid, I don’t EVEN HAVE FEET.
— Helper (@helper) July 3, 2015
Some brands have even realized the success of some of their biggest competitors and tried to hop on the Internet viral wave. However, some brands fall short and can really seem like they’re over doing it.
too old for pancakes and chill, now we want breakfast all day and commitment
— IHOP (@IHOP) November 6, 2015
How to Be Trending (in a Good Way)
What’s crazy about Internet memes is some fizzle out in less than a month, while others pick up steam later on. If you consider yourself Internet savvy than you’ve definitely heard “Netflix and chill,” which is easily one of the most popular memes right now. However, by the time you read this article, the buzz around that phrase could be completely out of date.
For marketers who want to stay on top of Internet culture, you have to keep a pulse on popular culture events. For example, during Super Bowl XLVIII in New Orleans, there was a blackout in the Superdome, which caused a 34-minute delay. According to Wired, Oreo won the commercial/marketing Super Bowl without even paying millions of dollars for air time. The cookie company simply Tweeted out this image:
Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC
— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013
Within minutes Oreo had thousands of Retweets all because the company was extremely timely in its delivery. In a social media crazed age, comedy has to be extremely timely and as a brand, it requires to be ready when to use something like a meme to increase engagement.
So, What’s the Point?
Social media can be risky business for companies to let out their humorous side because some of the jokes are completely geared toward younger generations.
Wow. So color. Much flowers. pic.twitter.com/mTI4Ka1UbW
— Lime-A-Rita (@LimeARita) April 5, 2015
In this marketing meme, only those who get the “Doge” meme will understand the context. If you’re certain your target audience will comprehend, then you could drive higher engagement as these marketing memes do well.
Memes are used to get your audiences’ attention, which could ultimately lead to outreach and higher engagement. Using a tool for social media management like Sprout Social can help you measure social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see how well your viral posts are doing.
Even though memes strongly depend on humor, understanding more about your target audience could seriously help you develop your social media marketing strategy.
At the same time, you’re entering a realm of Internet jokes where you simply cannot be certain if your memejacking content will go over well with your audience. It pays to know the social media demographics of your audience so you can make decisions like marketing memes to boost customer engagement.
However memes shouldn’t be used blindly. While they truly don’t have any context to your brand, how the company works or brand solutions, your humor can actually go a long way. With the right use of humor, you will build brand trust with your core audience as you begin to humanize your company.