What is a meme?
Interestingly, the term ‘meme’ began its roots in ancient Greece, originating from the phrase ‘mimēma’, meaning “an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means”. By today’s standards, a meme is just a funny image that often goes viral. However, the notion of it being the behaviour of a culture that is passed on from one individual to another is arguably at the core of what makes memes so powerful, especially in the digital age.
Memes are native to the language of social media, and that’s why we love them so much. They allow us to laugh at people, politics, and come together over simple commonalities. I have two separate WhatsApp groups dedicated entirely to sending them back and forth between friends, and as it stands, I have an album of around 800.
It wasn’t long before marketers hopped on to the revolution, and there’s been numerous attempts across the country from brands trying to make their own memes. To say the least, it’s a risky move, and you’ll either be riding the wave of the viral post, or looking like you’re trying too hard – more often than not, it’s the latter.
Nevertheless, after looking into which brands did it best, it seemed the most successful posts kept it light and simple, but most importantly, they found the crucial connection between what resonates with them as a brand and their audience. These were some of my favourites…
NSW Police Force
The memes that NSW Police Force posted this year received some of the highest levels of engagement on their Facebook page, not to mention the memes are genuinely funny and relevant to the work the force carry out.
The luxary brand Gucci have posted just over 30 personalised memes on their social media in the past year. It’s not a surprise to hear their social media posts perform exceedingly well on Instagram, but what is suprising, is that 2 of the memes they posted this year became their most engaged posts of all time, dethroning the Instagram post of the Obamas that received well over 150,000 likes!
Now, you wouldn’t rely on meme stategising to sell a new product, but in terms of brand awareness, those who do it well are laughing all the way to the high engagement bank.
Before attemping to incorporate memes in to your social media plan it’s crucial to assess whether or not you have an audience that will resonate with the nature of memes. If you haven’t got the right target audience, then you’re wasting your time. And when it goes wrong, the internet will show no mercy in letting you know about it. Did you know there’s a twitter account dedicated solely to shaming brands who attempt to ‘get down with the kids’ on social media? https://twitter.com/BrandsSayingBae
Generally speaking, there are no boundaries with what people can make memes about, and that’s possibly why the memes posted around social issues are generally the most shared, particularly around high political climates. Memes were born from the millennial generation, and this becomes evident when you look at the connotations behind political memes around the world.
It’s unquestionable that online movements have an impact in the polling station, and some of Jeremy Corbyn’s growing success was put partly down to Labour supporters spreading the word on social media. While the Conservatives posted relentless YouTube videos and bought up as many Snapchat advertising slots as possible, young Corbyn supporters turned to memes and humour to promote his policies, his personality, and why Teresa May was no competition.
In the last two elections, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton received the majority support from millennials across the US – and you guessed it, it showed in the memes.
When Obama hung his presidential hat a new genre of meme was born: The Biden and Obama bromance. The memes used images of the pair talking, laughing, embracing, all teamed with imagined dialogue. Though the memes were all comical, at the root of it all was a very sad farewell to a much loved president. The types of memes that were to follow about Trump were such a strong indication of how the country (millennials in particular) were responding to the recent changes in White House residency.
Memes and marketing aren’t supposed to go hand in hand, and that’s what makes them such a grey area amongst marketers and advertisers. Memes were born from a generation who want to see honest and frank content on their social media feeds. Marketing isn’t always upfront and honest, and the boundaries of what brands can put out to their audience is sometimes so heavily restricted that the content can come across as wooden, especially when you’re trying to be funny. However, what the success of memes can teach us, is never to underestimate the power of simplicity. Yes, memes can often have political or social undercurrents, but at their core, memes are jokes that unite people over simple commonalities. There are no fancy graphics or punchy strap lines, just content that resonates with everyone on the most basic level.
Written by Meg