I was scrolling through Facebook looking for #releventcontent to be inspired by and I decided on a Brad’s Wife tweets compilation that my thoughtful friend had tagged me in. Upon doing more research, I discovered that not only was I late to the meme by about 3 months (if you’re even less trendy than I am, check out the debacle here) but I was also late to the idea of using it creatively in your own content and promotion. As a self-proclaimed internet nerd and relatively early member of the online photo-sharing community imgur, memes have begun to baffle me. Memes are essentially relatable bits of visual content that may have a text caption and can be easily shared and spread (need some visual examples? Here is a meme database and a video of 150 memes in 300 seconds). Most are humorous, but some are urban myths, social commentary, or just plain dramatic. They have managed to work themselves into the everyday conversation of young people, whether through discussions of memes or sayings like “nobody for time for that!”, “true story”, “that feel when”, “challenge accepted”, or “deal with it” that originated in or were popularized by the internet meme world.
Internet memes play an increasing role in politics as well, through what is called “meme warfare” or “viral politics”. Some individuals view this as democratizing politics: assuming they have the audience, laymen can share a message quickly, effectively hijacking a medium usually used for control and using it against itself. Memes can create social and political change. Others object, arguing that memes could eventually be artfully used by governments or organizations to shift society and “defeat an enemy ideology and win over the masses of undecided noncombatants”. Some say memes cheapen politics and ruin civil discourse, just another symptom of the right feed/blue feed epidemic. Memes can be social and political propaganda, disguised as pepe the frog or chubby bubbles girl, influencing how we think and act.
Surprisingly, the term meme was invented in 1976, 15 years before the internet was invented by Al Gore in 1991 (meme!), by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (note: in order to find out this information I had to google “History of Memes” and not “Meme History”, because meme history is taking a historical fact and setting it to a meme). A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. Examples of pre-internet memes are cliches, fashion, a smiley face, or “that’s what she said”. Internet memes can be jokes, videos, photos, or phrases which go “viral”.
For social media marketers, your ad or concept going viral is the dream; you may remember these ads that went viral on YouTube a few years ago. But marketers can also employ pre-existing memes to create content that potential customers will find humorous and interesting. Meme culture will influence digital media marketing more and more.
Staying alert to budding trends and developing memes is essential for today’s media professional. If you choose to incorporate memes into your advertising strategy, or create something bold enough to catch on, you must be aware of the broader meme environment and keep yourself plugged into pop-culture-influencing sites.
Knowing your audience is key. Someone, anyone, please remind me of an instance when it isn’t key! Using the correct medium for a targeted message can have a huge impact on how it is received by potential followers and customers. Only use memes that your audience will appreciate and share, or you will run the risk of appearing pandering or out-of-touch.
The blend of knowing your audience and staying on trend is understanding your millennial users and followers. Millennials don’t like being marketed to, they like being marketed with. As digital natives, they grew up being constantly marketed to through traditional advertisements and distrust it. In your content creation, be aware of millennials’ sense of humor, and if you choose to use memes then make sure you didn’t miss the popularity window. That would be trying way too hard.
As comedic memes continue to get created and shared at an ever-increasing rate, you will be competing in the attention economy against even more players. Users no longer have to sit through self-serving brand messages and can decide what content to engage with. Media marketers and advertisements must learn to adapt!