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Do memes belong in your marketing strategy?

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Written by Eleanor Kilduff on February 27th, 2020
Memes dominate almost every social media platform. Love them or hate them, they’re inescapable. But can memes help you better connect with your customers?

Using memes in marketing

The internet is an ever-changing and evolving mass of weird and wonderful content, and a lot of it is trying to sell us things. People consume hours of social media on a daily basis, scrolling through endlessly refreshing content feeds – which means they’re also getting good at filtering out the adverts!

This poses a problem for businesses trying to stand out against the noise. How do you compete against family, friends and channels pumping out content purely for entertainment? What can we learn from the memes people share?

What do we meme?

You’ve probably seen too many memes to count, whether you know it or not. If you’re unsure exactly what a meme looks like, viral posts are usually a combination of image or video with accompanying text that reflects some deeper meaning to the content, although there are plenty that seem completely inane and unexplainable to those not in on the joke.

The technical definition of a meme is that of an idea or behaviour spread from person to person by imitation. The term was actually coined by Richard Dawkins in his book on evolution, The Selfish Gene. Memes are a form of cultural evolution – and the term was readily adopted in internet culture, where imitation and iteration are the sincerest forms of sharing.

Some say the meme format that we see online today was born back in 1921, when an edition of the satirical magazine, The Judge, published a very relatable comic strip. No doubt you’ve stumbled across many of these “Expectations vs. Reality” memes while browsing social media. It’s interesting – but not too surprising – to discover that memes aren’t such a new concept after all.

Example: Expectations vs. Reality

The “Expectations vs. Reality” meme is a timeless classic for a reason. It’s relatable and adaptable to many different situations, keeping it fresh and amusing every time it pops up on our social feed. Can it work for marketing your business? We think so!

Brands and businesses can adapt this meme in a wide variety of ways to market themselves online. Perhaps the most effective application is when this meme is used to play with customers’ expectations of your business and your industry.

For example, part of what we do at Splitpixel – other than building first-class websites and delivering exceptional marketing strategies – is keeping your data safe and secure. People often envisage sci-fi data servers in maximum security rooms, but really, data protection is as much about every day common sense, locking the doors and keeping physical backups as it is about high profile hacks.

Marketing done right: Old Spice Guy

We’ve watched meme culture grow and evolve over the last decade, witnessing some of the best (and worst) meme content take social media by storm.

You remember the Old Spice Guy – how can anyone forget? Back in 2010, Old Spice dropped one of the most effective marketing campaigns in recent history. Not only was the advert impressive from a video production perspective (a one-take wonder), it was also an early adopter of random humour in adverts – albeit a few years after the trailblazing Tango man.

We can learn a lot from the Old Spice Guy, not least of which is how to effectively harness the power of social media to increase your reach through engaging content. The adverts were funny enough that people wanted to share them with others – and accessible online so they could!

A decade later, we’re still seeing this video making the rounds on social media as people reminisce about this much-loved advert, even transcending the product itself while still keeping the brand in mind. The Old Spice commercials were a work of art! If you’re interested in learning more about the process of making the original advert, we’ve dug up a great video interview with the creators.

Accidental marketing through memes

Sometimes a lot of thought and creative energy goes into creating a great meme – and then there’s planking. In 2011, this internet craze made us laugh, groan and cringe as we watched people lay flat on their stomachs on various things – be it their desk at work or the top of a McDonald’s sign.

While McDonald’s (or any business for that matter) would never actively encourage people to endanger their lives for the sake of brand awareness, we can’t ignore that this daring stunt had unintentional marketing value. It just goes to show that sometimes memes and social media do the work for you.

Putting aside the idea of climbing dangerously high signposts to focus solely on how this image spread, *THIS* is why it’s so important for your business to be on social media. If you’re not on social, you are missing out on potential exposure. In this example, people aren’t directly interacting with the brand online, but it’s not like anyone is going to completely glaze over the massive McDonalds logo dominating this disturbing scene – free product placement!

Remember to ask permission

Another great example of a company harnessing the power of a widespread and well-loved meme would be Virgin Media’s use of Success Kid on their billboards back in 2012 – but don’t go stealing cute baby photos just yet!

While memes may seem fair game on the internet (with every man and his dog creating their own take on popular memes), capitalising on someone else’s photo may lead to complications. Virgin Media paid for the use of the photo, which kept the owner happy and avoided a potential lawsuit.

Original meme content

So, you’re wondering, what if I can’t find the owner to ask their permission?

Well, a good meme doesn’t necessarily have to use someone else’s photography. Adopt the style, not the content. For example, when the Dolly Parton challenge – otherwise known as #CanDoItAllChallenge – blew up all across social last month, we had a go ourselves.

splitpixel meme

This meme offered us a great way to showcase our brand personality and the faces behind Splitpixel. With Greg and Charlie heading up the company (and projecting all the professional vibes) on LinkedIn, Rob Marshall serenading us as he so often does in a moody Instagram photo, and Jon on Tinder – which, a bit like planking, we prefer not to talk about too much.

So, are memes right for you?

Memes are great! It’s a fun way to communicate with your customers. They can make you relatable, likeable and funny – or they can backfire and leave your customers cringing.

Sometimes memes are quite time-sensitive, and while it’s important to be quick with your content and take advantage of trending hashtags, it’s equally important to be thoughtful of the message you’re sending and whether you think the meme is actually going to land.

People can tell brand memes apart from the user-generated ones, and your content might not get the reception you’d hoped for if you’re found to be trying too hard or attempting to capitalise on a meme that just doesn’t fit with your brand or message.

For help with your social strategy, or to find out more about our diverse marketing services, get in touch with our friendly team. We’ll help you meme with the best of them!

Headshot of Eleanor
Written by Eleanor Kilduff on February 27th, 2020

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