Google defines a meme as ‘an image, video or piece of text, typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.’ In fact, memes have become so popular in recent years that according to Google Trends, more people search for the term ‘memes’ than ‘Jesus Christ’.
Given the popularity and soaring engagement rates of these virtual phenomena, it is no surprise to see brands attempting to capitalise on their mega sharing power by incorporating memes into advertising and marketing campaigns.
When a brand is able to do this effectively, the results can be far greater than expected. Virgin Media took the opportunity to use memes to promote their brand, when in 2012, they released a billboard featuring the ‘Success Kid’.
The brand employed arguably the safest form of meme marketing, using a tactic known as ‘memejacking’. By basing their campaign around a popular meme, Virgin Media were able to use a viral piece of content to their advantage. The informality of the ‘Success Kid’ sought to encourage potential customers to let down their guard with the telecom giant, and see the humorous side to the brand.
In some cases, companies were born out of memes. Elliot Tebele began creating memes and other humorous photographs with friend Elie Ballas on Tumblr. After moving to Instagram with the account ‘FuckJerry’ they have now racked up 12 million followers. The account now works pretty much as a full social franchise, with merchandise and has spawned extended accounts including @pizza and @kanyedoingthings.
Companies have also involved themselves in trending memes to grow their own social media presence. Most of us will remember ‘The Dress’ – one of the Internet’s most famous debates involving a photo of a dress that went viral in February 2015. With so much conversation being generated online around the photo, several brands were quick to jump in to the debate, as a way of promoting their own products.
Oreo’s response generated 1,707 retweets as well as 2,399 favourites from Twitter users, with a post featuring their golden and original cookies.
Dunkin’ Donuts also took the opportunity to create two new flavours in response to ‘The Dress’ and received a generous engagement rate in return with 3,309 retweets and 4,705 favourites.
Despite the high engagement rates, brands must be careful not to underestimate the thin line between success and failure when incorporating memes into their campaigns. Just as there have been high-profile successes, there are also instances where the use of memes was best avoided.
This was the case with the new ‘Ghost in the Shell’ movie, whose promoters decided to launch an online meme generator ahead of the release date. The generator invited users to upload a picture and statement about their own inner strength. However, users were quick to upload photos and captions referencing the ‘white-washing’ casting controversy surrounding the anime classic. This resulted in lots of negative online conversations about the film. Perhaps in this case, the phrase ‘know your audience’ was slightly missed. Mega fans took this as an opportunity to point out Asian actors that could have been the lead, rather than americanising the anime classic.
By Dina Mouhandes