Memes and Marketing: Simple Humor or Serious Content?

Memes and Marketing: Simple Humor or Serious Content?

If you have seen a picture on your Facebook timeline of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, accompanied by some pithy text; or the actor Sean Bean with a comment that starts, “one does not simply ...”; or even the more recent series of humorous images that feature Joe Biden and Barack Obama, then you have witnessed the meme phenomenon.

While the meme is often a repeated image with some customized text, it can also be a catchphrase, such as the Budweiser ‘wassup’, an activity, such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, or even a concept, such as the mic drop. Commonly, the meme is mimicked and copied by other people and usually spreads virally, while simultaneously evolving and changing, but all the while hanging on to the original theme.

The meme (pronounced ‘meem’), originates in the ideas of the biologist, Richard Dawkins, who coined the phrase in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. Dawkins wanted to explain how genes spread and replicated and he subsequently distinguished between an Internet meme, which is altered and evolves because of human action, and biological ones that mutate and change through random selection.

The image meme, such as Matrix Morpheus, Kermit Drinking Tea, Grumpy Cat, and Success Kid, to name but a few, are all examples of image macros—they typically feature some text, which is often in Impact font at the top and bottom of the picture. While most memes evolve organically, as users customize and change the image, there are several online generators on the Internet that allow you to insert some text and then create an image file for you to use. Memes can also be produced by marketers for viral marketing – a practice called "memetic marketing."

Done correctly, this can help to generate ‘buzz’ around a product and provide a very cost-effective way to create brand awareness and bring your offering to a demographic that you might not normally reach. Some successful examples of memes that have been used for marketing purposes, include the image of ‘Success Kid’—a baby clenching his fist and usually accompanied by a comment signifying success—used by Virgin Media as part of an online and billboard campaign. The tagline accompanying the image said, "Tim just realized his parents get HD channels at no extra cost." Or the Dos Equis "most interesting man in the world’ meme, which has evolved in many incarnations, bringing awareness to the beer brand as it does."

Memes can be a quick and effective way to generate content and bring viral awareness to a brand, but it should also be remembered that they evolve as they pass from user to user and the result may not always be what you intended.

Will Trevor is NYCRAMA's VP of Social Media. He has a background in sales and marketing, where his experience spans both agency and client-side positions. Will also worked in a range of industries, from the public sector, to manufacturing and recruitment. Most recently, he has applied his practical experience to the field of education and training, where he teaches in higher education, both in the UK and the USA. Find out more about Will on LinkedIn.

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