Meme marketing is any marketing strategy that uses memes to promote a brand. The term “meme” itself was popularized by author Richard Dawkins over 50 years later in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. In the book, Dawkins described how ideas evolved and were shared across different cultures. The internet has enabled this exchange to occur at an exponential rate, with the first modern memes emerging in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
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Understanding meme marketing
Most associated memes with the internet, but the first recorded instance of a meme appeared around 1919 in the Wisconsin Octopus, a magazine published by the University of Wisconsin.
The meme, which featured two picture panes not unlike a comic strip, depicted the expectations and realities of dating.
A similar style meme was then published in satirical magazine The Judge two years later, describing the familiar situation where we think we look better in a photograph than we actually do.
The term “meme” itself was coined by author Richard Dawkins over 50 years later in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.
In the book, Dawkins described how ideas evolved and were shared across different cultures.
The internet has enabled this exchange to occur at an exponential rate, with the first modern memes emerging in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Today, memes are as popular as they are diverse and multi-faceted. They are especially favored by younger consumers, with 75% of Millennials sharing memes and 38% following meme-based social media accounts.
Brands have now realized the immense potential of memes as part of their marketing strategies. Memes are used in marketing because of their ability to communicate attitudes and situations with brevity.
Memes also allow the business to relate to consumers on a more personal level.
How can businesses incorporate meme marketing?
While there is no concrete process describing the creation of a meme marketing campaign, it can be useful to consider these pointers:
Define the brand
As with any marketing strategy, meme marketing must reflect the core values of the brand it is promoting. The business should choose its memes wisely and avoid using unrelated memes simply because they are popular.
Ensure the meme is relatable
The meme must also be understood by a broad swathe of the target audience for marketing to be effective. It is also important to consider any cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic issues associated with the ideal buyer.
Take advantage of trends
The most popular memes that go viral tend to be associated with current events. In a process called memejacking, businesses can take advantage of these trends by adapting the meme or the event to suit their product.
Keep it simple
Marketers should also avoid using complex, obscure, or niche memes as a general rule. These memes are more likely to fall flat and, in any case, will only capture a small subset of the target audience.
Follow the rules
Consumers are repulsed by meme marketing that tries too hard to be humorous or is used in the wrong context.
To avoid these problems, marketers need to understand the meaning or humor behind the meme and most importantly, ensure it is still recognizable once it has been adapted to suit.
Meme marketing examples
Here are some of the more popular examples of meme marketing in recent years.
BarkBox is an online pet subscription box platform that sells dog toys, treats, and other goodies.
The company is a well-known proponent of meme marketing because so many memes feature dogs.
To that end, BarkBox is quick to latch on to any so-called “Doggo” meme to promote its products and bring its community of 600,000 dog lovers together.
The Gucci brand is built on luxury, grace, and sophistication.
However, the company decided to launch a new meme marketing campaign called #TFWGucci where it released a series of humorous and relatable memes in collaboration with famous artists.
In one such meme, the glum portrait of a woman painted by renaissance artist Agnolo Bronzino was accompanied by the text “When he buys you flowers instead of a Gucci watch.”
The campaign showed consumers that Gucci was trendier and more up to speed with current events than many had assumed.
Fast-food chain Burger King is also known for its witty and creative meme marketing campaigns.
In one example, the company released an image with six chicken nuggets arranged to look like the abdominal muscles of someone who exercises. At the top of the image was the slogan “The only six-pack I care about”.
Additional Case Studies
- Denny’s Diner: Denny’s is known for its quirky and humorous social media presence. They often share memes and use internet humor to engage with their audience.
- Wendy’s: Wendy’s Twitter account gained fame for its humorous and often sassy responses to customer inquiries. They incorporate meme-like humor to interact with their followers.
- MoonPie: MoonPie, a snack brand, gained attention with its playful and witty Twitter posts. They frequently engage in meme-style humor to connect with their audience.
- Netflix: Netflix uses memes and references from their shows and movies to engage viewers on social media. They create memes that relate to their content and share them to generate buzz.
- Taco Bell: Taco Bell embraced meme marketing by creating memes related to their menu items. They keep their content simple and relatable, often focusing on humor.
- Old Spice: Old Spice, known for its humorous advertising, incorporates memes and internet culture into its marketing campaigns. They create viral videos and posts that resonate with younger audiences.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: The official SpongeBob SquarePants social media accounts frequently use memes and references from the show to engage fans. They leverage the nostalgia and humor associated with the series.
- Tide: Tide, a laundry detergent brand, ran a successful meme marketing campaign during the 2018 Super Bowl. They capitalized on the popularity of the “Tide Pod Challenge” meme by featuring actor David Harbour in a series of humorous ads that played with the concept of clean clothes and Tide Pods.
- Distracted Boyfriend Meme: The stock photo of the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme has been used by various brands to create witty and relatable advertisements. Companies like Netflix, IKEA, and even the National Library of Scotland have used this meme to convey their messages.
- Wendy’s “Nuggs for Carter”: Wendy’s engaged with a Twitter user named Carter Wilkinson who asked how many retweets he needed for a year of free chicken nuggets. Wendy’s replied with a challenge, leading to the viral #NuggsForCarter campaign. Although he didn’t reach the required number, Wendy’s gave him free nuggets and made a charitable donation.
- “This is Fine” Meme by The Oatmeal: The webcomic “The Oatmeal” created the “This is Fine” meme featuring a dog surrounded by fire, representing a situation where everything seems to be falling apart. It was later used by brands like Firefox and the Houston Rockets to humorously address difficult or chaotic situations.
- Arby’s: Arby’s social media team is known for creating artwork inspired by pop culture, video games, and anime. They share these images on their social media platforms, connecting with various fan communities and generating engagement.
- “Two Buttons” Meme by Wendy’s: Wendy’s used the “Two Buttons” meme format on Twitter to humorously present choices related to their menu items, often poking fun at competitors.
- Adobe Creative Cloud: Adobe ran a campaign titled “Adobe Creativity Can’t Be Beat” using memes and humorous videos. They highlighted how their software is essential for creating memes and viral content.
- Spotify Wrapped: Spotify leverages user data to create personalized “Spotify Wrapped” memes at the end of each year. Users share these memes on social media, showcasing their music listening habits and promoting the platform.
- “Doge” Meme by Snickers: Snickers incorporated the “Doge” meme, featuring a Shiba Inu dog with broken English captions, into their advertising. They humorously suggested that “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” by comparing it to the doge’s speech.
- Meme marketing is any marketing strategy that uses memes to promote a brand.
- To implement an effective meme marketing campaign, the business should define its brand, ensure the meme is relatable, take advantage of trends, keep it simple, and follow the rules.
- Meme marketing has been used to great effect by companies such as Gucci, BarkBox, and Burger King.
Key highlights of meme marketing:
- Definition: Meme marketing involves using memes to promote a brand or product. Memes are humorous or relatable images, videos, or text that spread rapidly on the internet.
- Origin: The term “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976 to describe how ideas evolve and spread across cultures. Modern internet memes began to emerge in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
- Popularity: Memes are immensely popular, especially among younger consumers. 75% of Millennials share memes, and 38% follow meme-based social media accounts.
- Effective Communication: Memes are known for their brevity and ability to convey attitudes and situations concisely, making them effective for marketing purposes.
- Brand Alignment: Successful meme marketing aligns with a brand’s core values and target audience. Brands should choose memes that resonate with their ideal customers.
- Relatability: Memes used in marketing campaigns should be relatable to a broad audience and consider cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic factors.
- Trend Utilization: Capitalizing on trending memes and adapting them to a product or event, known as memejacking, can boost a campaign’s success.
- Simplicity: Complex or niche memes may not appeal to a broad audience, so simplicity is key to effective meme marketing.
- Adherence to Meme Culture: Meme marketing should respect the humor and context of the original meme to avoid backlash.
- Examples: Brands like BarkBox, Gucci, and Burger King have successfully integrated memes into their marketing strategies, leveraging humor and relatability to engage consumers.
What are steps to implement meme marketing?
How brands are using memes?
Platforms like Twitter and Reddit have become where memes are created, spreading very quickly. Today, creating memes can be an incredible superpower for brands. However, it can also turn against them. Thus, it’s critical to understand how a meme might fit into the overall brand strategy. Take the case of how Gucci created a set of memes around the hashtag #TFWGucci where it released a series of humorous and relatable memes in collaboration with famous artists.
Is meme good for brand?
Memes can make brands much more relatable with their audiences and, in a sense, humanize a brand, as it makes it appear funnier. Indeed, younger generations use memes as a primary way to communicate, and brands able to master the art of creating memes can generate buzz and, at the same time, create trust with new generations.
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