I think that it would be fair to assume that most people have a somewhat love-hate relationship with memes. For any of us (i.e. all of us) who spend a significant proportion of time on social media, memes, by turns, can either infuriate or titillate by equal measure. And the reason is self-evident – some are just appalling and stupid, and others are really quite witty (and even quite polemical at times).
It would be disingenuous of me to suggest, however, that there is no middle ground when it comes to the meme. Memes can also be cute, a bit silly, smirk-worthy, and fun – all to harmless extents.
But, what the marketer has to take note of is the fact that some people just absolutely cannot stand memes, no matter how perfectly timed, illustrative, satirical, clever, or indeed poignant they happen to be.
And so I write this article with a little cautious hesitancy.
For some, a meme is practically synonymous with the tacky, the cheap, the stupid, the juvenile. And therefore, any brand which decides to enrol a bit of meme marketing into its content strategy needs to be aware that they risk alienating the meme-haters.
Ok? There it is. Treat it like a disclaimer – if you decide to start using memes as part of your marketing efforts, there are some out there who might never take you seriously again.
And so, to embark on meme marketing is to take a calculated risk – but that’s not at all to say that it won’t pay off. What you need to do is take stock of your overall brand message and your target audience. Do memes (which, frankly, are a bit silly, tacky, cheap and stupid – even the clever/ironic ones – that’s all part of their charm) fit your brand? Does your audience get memes, or does it detest them?
Here’s a quick answer – if you’re peddling products to self-righteous take-myself-so-seriously hipsters, then don’t use memes (unless you really do want to shoo these people away from your brand forever more). Some hipsters may well claim that they were into memes ‘before they were cool’, and tell you something about the term being coined by Richard Dawkins – but now that they’re popular, they’ve been chucked on the reject pile along with Starbucks, work, and shaving.
Quickly – What Is A Meme, Exactly?
Good point to clarify. A meme is usually an image with a ‘clever/witty’ phrase attached that connotes a relatable situation/attitude on a large scale. And the large scale is indeed important. Memes – which can also be GIFs or videos – must be culturally relevant. That is to say that they must have an exoteric message that the vast majority of people will understand.
Memes are most commonly used these days on the internet – such as when Moz started its ‘Big News Memefied’ campaign – though Virgin did make use of billboards for marketing its services using the famous ‘success kid’ meme.
(Image source: cyberalert.com)
As you can see, what’s ‘culturally recognisable’ here is the baby’s expression – fist pumping triumph, made adorable and cute at the whim of an innocent toddler.
How To Use Memes For Marketing
To understand the fundamentals of using memes, there are just three steps that complete the process. These are:
- The selection of an appropriate image
- The writing and adding of appropriate copy
- The sharing and spreading of your meme across social media/the inclusion in a blog post or other piece of content
That’s all there is to the practicality of making a meme.
The next step comes in actually crafting the meme proper for use. If you’re handy with a camera and Photoshop, then you’re golden. You will be able to craft some of your very own, highly original memes to add to your marketing arsenal. (However, remember that a meme is not just a picture with a caption – it must encapsulate a recognisable cultural idea that can be shared.) To make the hipster meme below, I simply found a free picture of a hipster online, and went into Paint on my little laptop and wrote the words over the top – simple. And that’s the good thing about memes – they work best when they look a bit ‘homemade’ and rough around the edges. It’s the style that characterises them.
There are meme generators that you can use, where you can sift through a library of images to which you may add your own copy, or upload your own image.
Here are some very easy-to-use ones:
One of the main ideas of meme marketing is to create an easily shareable, viral image that links back to your website and therefore generates a ton of traffic.
It can be very effective when done well, but you of course have to realise that simply by creating a meme does not guarantee success on the internet.
You need to choose your picture carefully. You will see when you start to use meme generators that there are already some very popular meme images in use – Barak Obama features heavily, as does (shudder) Donald Trump at the moment, Sean Bean from The Lord Of The Rings, Willy Wonka, lots of babies and animals. You will no doubt have seen these images being bandied around as memes before.
They can be good to use, for they have already proven their popularity – however, you must realise that there will be some people who will be starting to get sick of them. And, unless you can link it to something completely new and take the meme in a direction that has never been thought of before, then you’re going to struggle getting your meme shared – the internet, you will find, has become largely desensitised to these old images. Virgin jumped on the ‘success baby’ just at the right moment – it was popular, cute, and there’s something about a massive brand using a populist meme-image that very cleverly connects the corporation and the general public. Brilliant marketing move, to be fair.
You will also find, though, when using meme generators that there is a list of images that are ‘trending now’. These, you may find more useful to jump on while they’re hot.
Your third option is to use brand new images that have been designed specifically for your brand and your content. The advantage of this is that it will be unique, the disadvantage that it won’t be immediately recognisable.
The best memes are those that are a bit of fun, make some sort of joke, or are otherwise humorous. The copy that you use essentially brings context to the image, and the image itself is often the punchline.
In this sense, it is why babies saying adult things, animals saying human things, and celebrities saying ‘colloquial’ things are often used to generate humour.
A word of warning – don’t try and be too clever with your jokes. Remember, memes are supposed to be exoteric and accessible to all. Also, make sure that you’re not being offensive (even to hipsters).
Furthermore – always check your grammar and spelling!! Indeed, this is one of the most infuriating things about memes for the meme-haters. Many really are very poorly worded, which, for grammar sticklers, is just inexcusable.
Ok, I just want to reiterate here that you must be careful when using memes. Consider your audience – do they get or like memes? If you’ve managed to invent some sort of spray-on hipster-repellent, then brilliant!! Use as many memes as you can. Though if you’ve invented a beard shampoo for hipsters, then you may find yourself laughed out of the drum circle for using memes as part of your marketing efforts.
Aside from that, have fun with them. Here’s one last grumpy cat video meme, if you will, to brighten up your day:
Were you into memes before they were cool? Let us know how you’ve been using them in your marketing campaigns.