Memes: Proceed with caution!

What is a meme? Stupid question, you might say… they’re everywhere on social media. You could be forgiven for thinking that a meme is one of these, and only one of these:

Source: Runt of the Web
Source: Runt of the Web

However, according to Oxford Dictionaries, a meme is ‘An element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means’. Clearly, memes predate the internet.

Source: Beckybyford
Source: Know Your Meme

So… can this type of meme be a useful marketing tool?

Well, first it helps to understand why memes are so popular. This article suggests its because they are:

  1. Easy to consume – most consist of an image and just a few words
  2. Shareable
  3. Familiar
  4. Funny, and
  5. Make people feel included.

There are some major upsides to using memes as a marketing tool. The content is already created (or easy to create yourself). They are easy to share, and for others to share, thus increasing the chances of your content going viral. And they can help make campaigns more relatable, especially to young people.

But before you jump in, some words of caution:

  1. Familiarity is not universal – and sometimes the most popular memes rely on in-jokes that not everyone will understand. In this case, while they will undoubtedly make some people feel included, they are likely to make others feel excluded. For this reason, consideration of your target audience is vital. Memes are most likely to appeal to a younger demographic, so if your target is senior citizens then it is unlikely to achieve what you want it to (unless the content is very specifically targeted to this audience).

    Source: Peg It Board
    Source: Imgarcade
  2. Another important consideration should be your brand’s image and personality. Is it young and hip, or conservative and responsible? If it’s the latter, humour might not be the best approach.
  3. Many memes could potentially offend some people or groups. If you think there is a chance anyone could be offended by it, don’t use it! Campaigns incorporating memes have the potential to backfire spectacularly, as this one did for Black Milk. Running your meme past a number of people from different backgrounds will reduce the chances of unintended consequences.

    Source: Cleo
    Source: Cleo
  4. Finally, should you use existing memes, or create your own? This article suggests that newer companies looking to go viral should use existing popular memes, while more established brands with good reach already may benefit more by creating original content.

So in summary, memes can be a great way to create reach for your marketing campaign – but should be used with caution. You don’t want your content to go viral for the wrong reasons!

What about you – would you use memes for a marketing campaign? Can you add any points I haven’t thought about?


11 thoughts on “Memes: Proceed with caution!

  1. This is great! Like what you’ve said, I feel that you have to be in the right brand/context to be using memes. Using the wrong memes could potentially come across offensive or even irrelevant and causes a bad reputation on the brand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really interesting point Meags, and great link, thanks! According to the article, being sued is unlikely. I would think that if you credited your source, you would be highly unlikely to get in trouble – after all, most memes are created with the intention that they are shared, and with luck, go viral (most marketers dream of their content going viral!). Also I think that if you are not using them in a commercial context you’re probably pretty safe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm memes are a great way to communicate your brands traits to your audience. As you said however it depends heavily on what your brand stands for.

    As far as copyright issues, that is something people don’t often pay attention to and is interesting to think about. Could there really be legal implications from using someones else’s meme?

    I would appreciate it if you checked out my latest post

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, memes are so good! They are definitely sharable, whenever I see a funny one I always tag a friend in it or like it. They capture people’s attention because people actually take the time to read them as they provide humour and also like you mentioned are so quick and easy to read. There is even an app you can use to create memes on photos, which makes it even easier for companies to you memes for marketing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree – I think memes can be really successful if executed properly, however it’s important that they are easy to understand (I often find myself scrolling through the comments looking for an explanation). They are also a great marketing tool in that not only are they easy to create, but they are also really easy to reach a widespread market, as so often people will tag their friends in them, or share them, which means they are constantly throughout the newsfeed. Furthermore, they are a fun, lighthearted way to connect with the audience. I think it’s just important to be careful and ensure they are appropriate! Great post, if you could check out my most recent one and let me know what you think that would be great 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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