Memes are important.
I’m not just saying that as someone who spends 99.999999% of his free time scrolling through meme accounts on Instagram and giggling at dank shit that @gracieee_gram tagged me in. I’m saying it as someone who works in the industry of persuasion and has spent years watching the meme economy unfold before us in real time.
Memes – these visual digital exchanges — have frankly become a native language for younger millennials and Generation Z.
To fully grasp the potential impact that this creates, I point to toward my colleague Marc’s blog post from earlier this week: How Memes Are Creating Real World Change. Please read before proceeding.
As you can see from this thought-provoking piece, memes were central to the three main campaigns that characterized and very bizarre 2016 presidential election. They certainly played a role in getting our current president elected. And damn near played a role in getting Bernie Sanders elected.
Great. But what does this mean for you? Obviously to be vigilant as a participant in American politics.
But additionally, as marketers, it’s probably worth asking: “What can memes do for you?”
As a brand, you’re walking a fine line by using memes and trying to talk like the kids, to the kids. Let’s crack open a few real world examples of some stuff that’s worked and some stuff that hasn’t.
🔘 retweets and attention
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) August 23, 2017
As of late, MoonPie has been the gold standard for “getting it.” This brand not only fully comprehends the absurdity, irony, and self-awareness that it takes to create excellent viral content within the digital meme space, but whoever their social media manager is has been given complete freedom to just go out and do it.
Trust + creative freedom = Success. In this case.
Lol no https://t.co/bSmOoA4C22
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) August 21, 2017
"You're a social media manager who posts bad jokes about MoonPies all day anyone could do your job"
First of all I have feelings
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) October 17, 2017
You: social media managers only exist to give faceless corporations annoying millennial voices and have no ROI
Me: actually… pic.twitter.com/XEyvG7JQt1
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) August 25, 2017
One time we thought our account was taken down by a rogue twitter employee but it turned out we were entering the wrong password for 3 days
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) November 3, 2017
Hope everyone can make it out pic.twitter.com/9wjwRofMQU
— MoonPie (@MoonPie) October 12, 2017
Here’s an example when not having a full understanding of the nuances of meme culture can come back and bite you.
You’ll remember, from Marc’s blog, the significance of Pepe the Frog and his symbol as an Alt-Right/White Nationalist figure online. Well, Wendy’s, who is typically fantastic on social was clearly unaware of the implications of using this particular meme. Basically, they obliviously tweeted it as a reaction to another user while enacting their engagement strategy and were met with tons of backlash.
The post was soon deleted.
It’s important to understand these nuances by either fully submerging yourself in the culture or at least through hiring a young person who does.
Good: Philly Auto Show
Missed yesterday’s ticket giveaway? Stay tuned next week. pic.twitter.com/iTkeclhmmU
— Philly Auto Show (@phillyautoshow) January 20, 2017
Sorry but I’m plugging my own example here. You know I had to do it to ‘em.
Who remembers Salt Bae? Maybe you called him Sprinkle Chef? Either way, he was January 2017’s meme of the month. He originated from this silly video of him chopping up a piece of steak and seasoning it all weird and sexy-like.
Like all good memes, it went viral for no apparent reason and morphed into many different shapes and forms. See below:
Hilarious! But how can brands chime in on the absurdity of this conversation? It has to make sense. In this example, it made complete sense. We were helping to promote ticket giveaways for the Auto Show. Why not have him sprinkle some tickets instead of salt?
Everyone recognizes him, it’s hilarious, and—mostly importantly—it gets our message across in a different way. The Facebook post for this went pretty bonkers.
This sucks. It’s makes me so mad. Like I don’t even know why I’m so mad right now. Just looking at it. Fuming. Ugh.
Like, ok. Ah! Yes! The Arthur fist meme that we all know and love! You tweeted it as is with perhaps the least imaginative line of copy I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Just because the meme itself is inherently funny, doesn’t make your base-level use of it funny.
You can’t just tweet it and get a laugh because it is what it is. There needs to be some form of creativity. Branding. Morphing. Originality. Say, a crumpled up Ruffles bag Photoshopped into the fist? IDK! Anything would be better than this abomination of a tweet.
So, in conclusion, there are a couple things that I’d like you to understand about all of this:
Embrace the culture.
If you’re uncool or inauthentic, the kids can smell it from a mile away. If you want to fit in, you’ve got to speak the language – or at least hire people who do. After all, if you’re trying to talk to kids, who better to have do it than more kids, right?
Accept that not everyone will “get” it.
It’s totally fine. Everyone as a whole will never entirely get it. The meme economy experiences near-constant evolution. For brands and institutions, investing in “memetics” comes attached with both risk of alienation and a large potential payoff with audiences.
Do you “get it” now? Well, thanks for reading anyway. Here’s hoping that Santa brings you a fat sack of dank memes these holidays. Ho, ho , ho.