Even in 2017, some things are unavoidable; death, taxes, and memes on social media. They’re everywhere; Evil Kermit, Salt-Bae, Harambe, just to name a few. If you don’t understand their meaning, they’ll go right over your head (and you’ve likely scrolled past a few that have). However, if you do, you’ve probably seen how many likes, shares, and retweets they get and wondered, ‘can I use these in a marketing context?’.

Simply put, the answer is yes, you can.

Star Wars, General Grievous meme saying 'your memes will make a fine addition to my collection of marketing tools'
General Grievous had work to do too.

What are memes?

Before I begin, I think it’s best I make sure you know exactly what we’re dealing with here. For those that don’t know, meme is pronounced ‘meem’. It’s not tomato-tomato, it’s a fact. Referring to memes as ‘me-mes’, as the spelling suggests, is a cardinal sin. It shows you’re out of touch with social media and the infamous trolls will let you know about it. 

Memes consist of four characteristics:

  1. Ideas. At their very foundation, a meme is an idea, expressed as an image, video or piece of text.
  2. Culture. These ideas are symbolised by referencing popular culture – anything from a current affair to a snippet of a TV show.
  3. Viral. Thanks to social media, information is spread faster than ever. Memes go viral as almost infinite variations are made that spread through multiple audiences, wherever in the world they may be, yet retain the principal idea they’re based on.
  4. Purpose. Why do these ideas resonate with so many and become shared across the world? It’s simple – they’re satirical. Memes take people’s everyday lives and find the humour within them.

How are they useful?

At first glance, you might be apprehensive towards using jokes in your social media marketing strategy. Rightly so. Caution is the natural response to things not fully understood. Here’s why it might actually be beneficial.

Humour underpins the very essence of a meme. Without it, a meme is just another picture, video or piece of text. Channelling humour into your social media presence gives your brand a personality. This can go a long way in building relationships with your audience who often feel disconnected from corporate companies, viewing them as solely interested in their hard-earned cash. Making your audience laugh bridges the gap between you and them by humanising your brand and consequently, promoting likability.

That’s not all.

Humour adds value to your brand.

In an age where customers are spoilt for choice, value is important. Let’s look at it this way – imagine two brands that offer the exact same product for the exact same price. They are of equal value to a prospective customer. Now imagine one of those brands goes out of their way to enhance your customer experience, adding more value for money – are you more likely to buy their product?

Yes, you are. That’s marketing 101.

But, wait…

Before you use this as an excuse to make memes at work, consider this. By this logic:

Memes = Humour

Humour = Added Value

Your Brand + Added Value =  Better Results.

This is a dream scenario for all you meme lovers out there. However, in reality, it’s not quite so straight forward. There are other factors you need to consider before implementing them into your strategy.

“Company sparks outrage with ‘funny’ meme”.

A nightmare headline for any company to endure. One that can become reality if your content doesn’t fit your brand. If it isn’t appropriate, you won’t get the results you’re looking for. Before deciding on using memes within your campaign, you need to check two things; your brand values and your audience.

First, remember what your values are and ask yourself, will memes help me achieve my goals?

are memes appropriate for your brand strategy themrktngblog
Are memes appropriate for yours?

Whilst they may help you build a social media personality, memes are not the only way to do so and they may damage your reputation if humour doesn’t fit in line with what your company is all about. For instance, a funeral service provider may not benefit from humour. Utmost professionalism is expected and jokes will make the company look insensitive to people’s losses and cause offence – not good for business.

Second, check who your target audience is. Since memes are a recent internet phenomenon, they resonate higher with millennials, simply because they understand and have more exposure to them. Older generations are less likely to get them, making your efforts to improve customer engagement fruitless.

An example of a humour appropriate brand is the betting company, Paddy Power. This company uses social media to make banter at the expense of sports teams and personalities – thus creating the perception of a mate with good craic. It’s appropriate because the competitive element of sports and betting allows for polarising opinions and tongue-in-cheek criticism of performances. Check out the example below posted moments after Arsenal knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup last week.

Memes don’t live forever.

Memes have a short lifespan. Like fashion trends, they surge in popularity and reach a peak before being quickly replaced by a new one. Old memes are referred to as ‘normie’ memes, a satirical term alluding to the meme being both too mainstream and unoriginal. Therefore, using dated memes can be damaging to your marketing campaign as customers can perceive your brand to be out of touch with social media and current affairs. Again, the trolls will let you know. Therefore…

Timing is crucial.

A good comedian will tell their jokes with a well-paced delivery to enhance the comic effect of their material. Catching wind of a meme and making content from it within its lifespan will catch the attention of potential customers and be received well. This is because it is recognisable, relatable and demonstrates your brand’s keen eye for current customer trends. Check Paddy Power’s tweet again.

Do you understand?

A simple question, yet crucial nonetheless. Above all else, you need to ensure you completely understand the content you’re dealing with. Take this 2012 campaign, ‘Seasons Memeing’, by Cheezburger, Inc and Kia to promote the Kia Sorento as an example. Internet users were encouraged to create captions for a series of car-related memes, many of which didn’t actually make any sense.

Consequently, the campaign was met with outrage from those that felt that their favourite memes were being ruined. Kia’s attempt to take advantage of popular Internet culture backfired and inherently made both the companies look stupid. It’s worth doing research before making any decisions.

Know Your Meme is a website – ironically owned by Cheezburger, Inc – dedicated to documenting memes that you should take full advantage of. Check out the photo below if you don’t believe me.

bad meme used by cheezburger and kia themrktngblog
Photo via Cheezburger, Inc.

Memes are not a tool to base your social media marketing campaign on. Going viral will not be enough to generate long-term customer relationships, loyalty and revenue growth.

They’re a tool.

A tool you should use to supplement your existing authoritative and promotional content to promote customer retention, create trust and improve engagement – by creating a human face for your brand.

But be warned, without careful consideration of appropriateness, snappy timing and confident understanding of the joke at hand, then your efforts could prove fruitless, perhaps even disastrous.

Harambe didn’t die for that.

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