The social media environment is becoming ever more crowded, and users are increasingly bored by the large volume of marketing-focused content being created. In this precaairous environment, memes have become a popular way to successfully, but subtly, propagate brand messages.
The best ones are always entertaining, usually funny, and extremely sharable. So, for marketers targeting a Millennial audience in particular, what’s not to like? A successful meme strategy can leverage the multiplying potential of social media by going viral and reaching a huge local and international audience, whether on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp or even LinkedIn.
Visual content – like a meme – has been shown in some social experiments to be up to 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content. The reason? It’s simply easier to digest a small amount of text with a relevant image attached. You’re competing for attention with millions of other users on social media, so you want to put your content in a format that will create that ‘thumb-stopping’ moment.
Jonathan Long, founder of e-commerce brand-development agency Uber Brands, agrees. Writing in Entrepreneur magazine, he emphasises that memes allow marketers to engage with the target audience without forcing an advertisement down their throats. “[Marketers] are able to experience high engagement rates using memes because [the] audience doesn’t feel like they are liking, commenting and sharing an advertisement. They just see it as a meme,” he explains.
What is a meme, anyway? Is essence, it is a cultural idea or cultural commentary which is transferred from person to person. And, it grows exponentially in reach as it does so. In the Internet age, it is a phrase, illustration, photo or video – or a combination of these – shared via social media networks. Some popular (non-business) examples of memes include Grumpy Cat, Condescending Wonka, Evil Kermit the Frog, LOLcats and The Dress.
Of course, it didn’t take long for innovative social media marketers to realise that they could use memes to promote anything from tomato sauce to sports teams. Many of these memes are custom-created, while others simply ride on the back of popular existing memes – a tactic known as memejacking.
Denny’s, the popular American diner brand, which recently opened in the UK, is an example of a corporate that successfully uses memes to target and engage consumers. One Denny’s campaign gained extensive coverage in the London-based Daily Mail newspaper and was liked/shared over 100 000 times and retweeted 76 000 times in less than 24 hours. It played on the popular ‘zoom in’ meme concept. Social media users were shown a photo of a Denny’s pancake and syrup, and each time they zoomed into a part of the photo they were redirected to another part.
Eventually they reached a seemingly silly punchline that social users obviously loved. “Whoever is responsible for this deserves a raise,” tweeted one fan. “I love the @DennyDiner social media team so much,” enthused another.
Last year, President Trump caused outrage in Britain by refusing to visit the country because he believed former President Obama had sold the old embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square “too cheaply”. In response, famous waxworks museum, Madame Tussauds, created a meme that showed a wax figure of Trump standing in front of the embassy he had refused to visit. It was an instant social media hit!
Heinz, the tomato sauce manufacturer, created a successful meme-based social media campaign by leveraging the debate around whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. In an Entrepreneur magazine article, Razvan Romanescu of Memes.com, the company responsible for the campaign, explained the strategy: “We created original meme content that played off the fruit or vegetable debate and asked the audience to chime in by using hashtags. We were able to [achieve] four times the original goal, generating more than four-million impressions and 80 000 engagements across Instagram and Facebook”.
If you don’t have the resources or experience to develop your own meme-based campaign, experts such as Memes.com can help you – for a fee, of course. Most competent social media marketing agencies should also be able to assist. If you’re on a tight marketing budget, perhaps check out free sites like www.memegenerator.net and www.makeameme.org.
But creating a successful meme is far from guaranteed. As a rule of thumb, a business-focused meme must do the following:
The last few points are particularly important for marketers. You may be able to create a meme that’s hilarious, shareable and reaches millions of people worldwide. But if it offends most potential customers, makes the company look silly or is inconsistent with your brand values, then it will do more harm than good.
Also, the Internet is always weird territory, so you need to be very in touch with the landscape you’re sharing in. For example, one of 2019’s most popular memes is the no one: meme.
Make of this what you will.
Once you’ve created a meme, be sure to apply basic marketing principles and analyse the response. If it’s successful, try to determine what made it so and use those same principles again. One of the advantages of memes is that they can be quickly updated, so consider taking the same concept and, by tweaking a visual or some wording, keeping it fresh and shareable for a few more days.
Memes tend to have a short shelf-life before the novelty wears off, so if one is successful you must work hard to prolong the lifespan. But accept the reality that even the very best memes will never be ageless classics. If a meme doesn’t work, drop it and move on quickly. It may be that the concept you’ve memejacked is no longer cool, or the idea you created simply doesn’t resonate with a very fickle social media audience. Don’t make your brand seem like it’s out of touch by flogging a dead meme horse.
To quote Romanescu again: “To increase the odds of riding the viral wave, make sure that you use memes that are trending. If you use older memes that have already run their course and exhausted their audience, your brand will appear out of touch and that can have a severe negative impact.”
In summary, integrating memes into your marketing strategy may be risky at times. However, it can also be an exciting and cost-effective way of reaching a large audience, while enhancing your brand in the social media environment.