In fact, some corporate memes have been so hilariously bad that their failure has become a meme in and of itself. So, is there any way to effectively utilise memes in marketing?

Defining memes

A 'meme', according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is 'an idea, behaviour or style that spreads within a culture', or 'an amusing or interesting item or genre of items that is spread widely online'.

A meme can be visual, audio, video, text or a combination of different mediums. Often, memes are a reference or reaction to something that has gone viral or is currently in a subculture.

Memes are usually shared across any platform online (and sometimes offline) but often tend to be most concentrated on one or two main platforms since, you guessed it, different platforms have their own corresponding culture.

Check the expiration date

Memes, just like everything else on the Internet, have evolved through the years. Furthermore, much like fresh produce, they go stale very quickly. There are a few which stand the test of time. However, they aren’t really used anymore because they’ve lost their relevance. 

There’s another phenomenon that occurs when a meme goes viral organically, but once it reaches a certain level of mainstream popularity, it’s shunned. For more information on this, you may want to familiarise yourself with the term 'normie'. 

Don’t try to make a meme

The biggest mistake companies make when trying to make sense of memes, is exactly that: they’re trying to make sense of something nonsensical. Memes make no sense. That’s why they’re funny. The memes that go viral online work as an inside joke with a type of 'you had to be there' appeal.

Some memes organically develop around a brand, such as in the case of the 'Cheeky Nandos' meme. However, you’ll notice that this rare positive effect happens to brands who already have a youthful appeal and humorous brand identity. How did Nando’s get lucky? You can read more on that here.

So why do corporate memes fail?

The generation gap: Chances are, what you find funny isn’t what your parents found funny. Sure, there is definite overlap at times but, for the most part, comedy is very dependant on what generation and subculture you’re a part of.

Take the most popular YouTuber PewDiePie as an example. I think it’s safe to say that to anyone over the age of 35, the videos look like a fever dream as opposed to comedic gold. Yet, that’s exactly what they are to his 62 million subscribers.

Desperation is unattractive: Unless a company is an active part of the online community they’re attempting to speak to, their efforts to create 'memes' will come off as forced and desperate. What makes a meme funny is silliness, and most brands take themselves too seriously and are simply out of touch with the demographic they’re trying to appeal to.

Many memes are inappropriate: This is a noticeable trend in meme culture and another reason why an effective meme would not necessarily be appropriate for many brands.

Some memes range from rude to downright offensive, so brands who air on the safe side when creating a meme often see their efforts fall short because they’re perceived as uninteresting and boring.

How can I make memes work?

If you’ve decided to go ahead and utilise memes as a marketing tool anyway, then here are some tips that can help you succeed (or at the very least, avoid failure).

Be mindful of copyright: You may see memes as silly little photos, videos or gifs which template you can freely replicate – that isn’t always the case.

As Squire Patton Boggs explains, memes in advertising can be a 'copyright mess' to companies who don’t take time to familiarise themselves with the potential copyright holders a meme can have.

Know your audience: With the ever-growing popularity of online memes, you aren’t speaking only to one specific demographic anymore.

Much of my insight comes from the specific sub-culture I’ve grown up in – but that is by no means the only group of people who share and enjoy memes. If your audience favours 'lame memes' then you can still embrace that and use it to your advantage.

The point is to have a good understanding of the consumer you’re trying to reach – some simple research into their likes and dislikes should suffice. So long as you remember that corporate memes are a strong dislike in some circles.

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*Image courtesy of Freepik