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Meme up your marketing: how to use internet pop culture for brand promotion

Mathew J Maniyamkott
22nd Dec 2017
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How would you react if somebody called you a ‘Bad Luck Brian’, or a ‘Success Kid’? How about if they said they were going to ‘Rickroll’ you? For those of you who think this sounds like Greek, welcome to the ever-changing, slightly weird world of memes. On social media, memes are a major part of the content consumed and shared. But what exactly is a meme?

Coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, the word was originally an explanation for how cultural information spreads. Over the years, it has come to include a wide variety of informal conversational tropes that are almost a staple of internet culture today. Memes have become a part of pop culture and are an easy way to connect with youngsters. Internet memes can be in any form – image, hyperlink, video, an entire website, or even a blog piece. The most popular form of a meme are the ones that feature text on an image; in fact, this type is the one that is usually recognized as a meme.

The inherent context and tones of memes make it easy for people to spread them to like-minded friends and within their communities through social networking platforms. Since people can easily identify with memes as they are fun and appreciable, it makes their content easy to absorb. This, of course, is great news for marketers looking for ways to connect with audiences and deliver their brand’s messaging easily. Neil Patel, founder of Crazy Egg and a hugely influential marketer, calls “memes” one of the most effective types of content to drive traffic as “they’re easy to make. They’re viral. They’re hilarious.”

Here are a few ways in which you can integrate memes into your marketing campaign:

Understand your audience

If yours is a financial news portal that has an exclusive membership for C-suite-level executives throughout the world, memes should not be something that should be brought up in your marketing huddle at all. If you cater to millennials, then memes should rank high on your priority. People who spend a lot of time on the internet are the ones who will appreciate memes. You need to decide if using hem can dilute your brand value. Would your audience be pleasantly surprised to see you use memes or be put off by it?

Use events that are trending

Imagine if your business does a Harlem Shake video right now – would it resonate with people? Most probably not. Why? Because the trend is long dead. A four-year-old phenomenon like Harlem Shake will not bring you any new audiences. However, if you release an interesting video around the theme of Christmas during the month of December, people will identify with it. Find things that are trending in your industry and that are popular with internet users, and create memes around them. This strategy will resonate with your audience as the topic is already trending.

Understand that memes can never be a substitute for quality content

Think of memes only as an engagement machine, and not as ‘content’ that will drive quality traffic to your website. People who visit your website after seeing your memes are not necessarily your target group, since a percentage of them will visit the site only because they are curious. Include memes in your content to engage the audience into sharing them with their friends and spreading the word about your brand.

‘Memejack’ your way to engagement

‘Memejacking’ refers to when brands use a previously popular meme in their marketing strategy but not necessarily in the same context or with the same intent. It is fraught with risks, as you are using a meme that the audience possibly identifies with an entirely different message. This strategy will fall flat if the audience cannot identify the meme with your business. However, it is still a very popular method with brands and has seen varying degrees of success.

Use doses of humour

Apart from being simple and shareable, memes are usually funny too. This is what makes them a hit with audiences. Memes are, in fact, expected to be funny. There are brands that kill it with their style of humour and wit. Can your brand pull off humour without offending anyone and while keeping the marketing message clear?

Memes can be incorporated into your marketing as and when a need for them arises; however, you cannot have a long-term strategy relying only on memes. Remember, make sure your memes are relevant, humorous, share-worthy, and most importantly, easy to understand. If your audience has to spend time figuring out your meme, you’ve likely already lost them. There are tools like Imgur, Livememe, Quickmeme, and Imgflip that help you create memes based on viral images. Experiment with them and the memes available there, and choose your meme marketing strategy carefully and creatively to have maximum impact.

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