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In the past few years, memes have burst into the social media mainstream as a quick, easy and very engaging way of sharing content. As a result, more brands than ever before are wading into the meme pool, always on the lookout for ways to cut through the clutter and attract potential new customers. Netflix, for example, stands out as one company that has pioneered the use of memes in social media marketing. There are countless other examples, from restaurants to beauty brands to entertainment companies, that are also embracing memes as part of their digital marketing initiatives to unlock the power of their brands.
Introducing the meme
Before you get started, you first have to understand what a meme is and how to create one. Simply stated, a meme is simply an image or GIF with a text caption overlay. The best memes are funny and humorous while leveraging pop culture trends or current events in order to connect with fans and followers. They are specifically designed to be shared, re-posted and re-tweeted, and Netflix has even gone so far as to create a social media account called “Netflix Is a Joke” in order to pump out these memes around its original shows. Once you’ve seen a meme, you can’t un-see it, which is why they are so popular with marketers. The best ones are instantly memorable, and can help to tighten up a brand’s image or identity online.
What to do with a meme
In the beginning, you can start out with off-the-shelf memes, such as those found on popular sites like Giphy. These are essentially pre-packaged images that you can then adapt for your particular brand with captions. The upside here is that these images are so iconic and recognizable that they will appeal to a large number of people. For example, even people who have never watched a full “Austin Powers” movie in its entirety will instantly recognize the character of Dr. Evil (as played by Mike Myers). The same is true with Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka character from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
The downside here is that you might begin to sacrifice some originality and creativity, which is why some brands have worked hard to create their own original memes. This is a little more dicey, since you may not be getting the same recognition and familiarity as with off-the-shelf memes and it’s just plain hard work.
However, if you can tie the meme into a popular phenomenon, current event or trend, then you might be able to create a viral hit. At one time, for example, “Game of Thrones” was a goldmine of potential memes for digital marketers, all of them looking for a way to tie their brand into one of TV’s most popular shows. Red Bull, for example, came up with this “Jon Snowboard Lives to Shred” video as a way of leveraging all the hype and speculation surrounding the character Jon Snow before the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
That video alone received more than 5 million views online, as well as tens of thousands of shares across social media. Click here to watch video.
What NOT to do with a meme
That being said, there are several watch-outs when it comes to deploying memes. First and most importantly, you should make sure that a meme is “on-brand.” If you are a retailer, for example, then any image or GIF that appears in a meme should resonate with the types of people who are likely to buy your goods or products. If you are an entertainment company known for creating edgy, youth-oriented content, then you should make sure that your memes are edgy as well.
The second watch-out involves politics. We live in a “cancel culture” world, and that means any meme can quickly go awry if it falls on the wrong side of the political divide. You might be OK with a cute meme around the famous Trump 2017 “covfefe” tweet, but anything else could land your brand in hot water with the left or right. You don’t want to be the brand that everyone is talking about and trying to cancel.
Using memes to engage and connect
Finally, keep in mind that memes should be used as a way to engage and connect with fans, not as a cheap, lazy way to create content. If your social feeds are filled with cookie-cutter memes and tired old reaction GIFs, then you are not doing your job as a digital marketer. Memes should be used to build and support your existing online community, while at the same time building up your brand. In this day and age, you simply cannot ignore the power of memes to unlock the full power of your brand.