‘Meme marketing’ - two words that you wouldn’t have expected hearing together, are now an essential tool in the advertising and marketing industry. Mutually exclusive to viral marketing and content marketing, memes take the best of both worlds to create a niche that is gradually gaining more popularity amongst brands and audiences alike.
Whether they’re scenes from Hera Pheri or random Shutterstock reaction pictures, memes make our world a better place to live in. Can you recognise these memes?
This relevance of such memes is increasingly making brands and companies more aware of the shift that is taking place in the type of content audiences like to consume. Memes are at the core of the new-wave digitalisation and hence, its vital to know how to make the best use of them.
Meme marketing can be defined as a new-age marketing strategy that uses memes to promote a product/service and communicate the brand narrative in a humorous, relatable way. The scope of meme marketing is huge: from a witty tweet to a parody video, brands can create content in unique and unassuming ways.
Indian brands such as Zomato and Amul and international brands such as Wendy’s, Netflix and McDonalds are exemplary in their meme game which is characterised by their topical, trendy and humorous commentary. But is that all there is to meme marketing? Just a couple of repurposed tweets with the hopes to go viral? No, definitely not! The growing popularity and functionality of memes as a means for brand communication is signalling towards a paramount change in how we produce and consume advertisements. But how exactly? Let’s break it down in this blog!
The Origin of Memes
Memes are like our genes – that’s what evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins claims. With the power to replicate and spread ‘infectiously’, memes are essentially cultural ideas that have a resounding influence in the world.
“Anything that could be the basis for an evolutionary process is a meme, simply by becoming more frequent in the population, in the meme pool, in the same way the gene becomes more frequent in the gene pool.”
– Richard Dawkin
While this is the etymological origin, internet memes as we understand them, took over back in 1996 with the dancing baby and the hampster dance.
Since then, as the internet evolved, so did the memes – with varying formats they found new formats, genres and eventually found their commercialisation in the world of advertising.
Here’s a fun video that perfectly summarises the timeline of internet memes:
The Importance of Meme Marketing
I can speak on behalf of most internet users that memes are quite truly, an extension of our identities. Being fluent in memes is a badge of honour amongst Gen-Zs and millennials, and this trend is slowly but surely catching up with our parents and their generation too (thanks to Facebook & WhatsApp). This pattern of behaviour quite naturally also ends up dictating how and what type of information we consume. Whether you’re a marketer or advertiser, knowing your audience well is the first step towards creating a fool-proof campaign, and incorporating memes into this can help elevate it – here’s why:
1. Selling, but not really: Memes are a great way to publicise any product/service without ever forcing it on the customers. Through organic humour-filled ads, there is a moment of cathartic release and in that moment as users we tend to forget (or oversee) the promotional angle.
Ryan Reynolds has mastered this niche of meme advertising. His brand, Aviation Gin takes the approach of ‘selling but not really’ to sell humour along with gin.
In 2019, Peloton received immense backlash for its sexist commercial where a husband gifts a peloton bike to his wife on Christmas. Reynold scooped in on the negative publicity to make a parody sequel to the same commercial where the same actress can be seen in a bar with her friends, enjoying a glass of gin toasting to new beginnings. With just an end product shot of Aviation Gin along with the friend’s dialogue saying, ‘You look great by the way’ this ad perfectly exemplifies how with meme marketing; the landscape of advertising is radically changing. Kudos to Ryan Reynolds and his company for putting up the ad within just 4 days of the original ad’s release.
2. The friendly and relatable brand: Most commonly brands and companies come across as corporate entities instead of humans, which can make their customers feel foreign to their values. To build that trust and loyalty, the association to be established requires the corporate façade to be dropped. By making memes, the brands are ‘in’ on the joke which instantly makes them come across friendly and relatable. Think about Netflix’s IG account, objectively it is just a corporate social media platform but the posts they share are hilariously relatable which helps make one feel more connected to the company.
The Gen Z pattern of consumption differs vastly from millennials. The whole reason behind the shift to shorter, more visual type of content is to retain the short attention spans, and memes are the most cost-effective solution.
You need to communicate more with a lot less.
Push notifications are another marketing tool which in most cases come across as spammy and annoying. To not make their audience aversive to notifs, Zomato uses puns and memes to lighten up the otherwise spammy information. This works in their favour as making jokes about biryani immediately poses them as a relatable brand.
3. Part of the conversation: Where do memes come from? In 99% cases, memes are content pieces that unexpectedly go viral. Whether it’s from a movie/TV series or any relevant pop-culture event, one can make memes about anything, genuinely anything. Doing this helps brands be a part of the on-going online conversation, often profiting off at other’s expense.
4. Shift from information to entertainment: Imagine this: You’re scrolling through Instagram; you see a hilarious meme posted by Netflix and a press article on Netflix. Which one are you more likely to engage with? Would you be more likely to share the article or the meme?
There would be a resounding agreement for the latter. While spending time on social media platforms, chances are, you don’t want to be bothered with information, because you want to be entertained as you mindlessly scroll lying on bed. With a report of an average 4.5 hours spent every day on social media by Gen-Zs, the window to grab and retain their attention is wide, but the right way to do it is to ensure they’re left entertained and not preached at.
Types of Meme Strategies
1. Other Companies Marketing Messages: One way in which meme marketing works is by commenting on other companies marketing messages. Whether a company has a fail (in the case of Peloton) or goes successfully viral (as we’ll see in the case of CRED), leveraging and commenting on such topical incidents help as a strategy for marketing.
When Rahul Dravid called himself the gunda of Indira Nagar, the internet certainly had a lot to say. Memeing on the meme (a common internet phenomenon), users and brands collectively found their own ways to bank on the trending ad.
Online commentary can also take the form of a playful online banter when it comes to responding to your competitors. Wendy’s, an American fast-food chain does this best.
Wendy’s: In 2017, Wendy’s revamped their marketing game – they took up a sassy brand persona, sharing memes, tweeting sarcastic and ironic posts and so on. This led them to they witness a 49.7% growth in profit and through the power of hilarious memes, Wendy’s was able to position its brand successfully.
Wendy’s trolled McDonald’s for using frozen beef in their burgers, a bold move which succeeded in gaining traction on the account. Soon, this sassy persona gained immense love from fans and reached a point where users willingly began asking the twitter account to roast them and eventually, became a global twitter moment.
2. Building a community: As Richard Dawkins rightly labelled memes as culturally transmittable, an internet meme evolves to bring together the big ol’ internet community together. If you share a laugh, you share it on your story - that’s the crux of how internet works.
To be identified as ‘relatable’ or ‘friendly’ brands must focus on building their online community which as a result, builds their client community. Interacting with fan comments, sharing stories, the giveaway phenomenon are just some ways which along with memes help build the brand identity and community.
3. The Timing: When it comes to memes you cannot anticipate their virality neither can you delay it. As we said before, the shelf life of memes is short-lived and one really has to be aware when to leverage it.
On the internet, the conversations take place in real-time, there is no delay (like in television), as the event takes places – the action follows up right after. That being said, as a brand don’t act on every trend that is happening. You can choose to let go of trends that don’t fit with your brand personality.
One brand that sets an example of what successful moment marketing looks like is Amul. A pioneer of moment marketing, Amul has been strategically capitalizing on trends through their visual marketing efforts. Check out our blog on, ‘What Makes Amul Visually Appealing and Memorable’ where we go in-depth about how Amul’s mascot – the Utterly Butterly girl becomes the central force in creating the brand persona through their timely comical memes.
Examples of Brands with Successful Meme Marketing Game
1. Elon Musk: It’s not just up for brands to integrate meme marketing into their business strategy, in some cases the CEOs can too. For Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk holds the reigns. Perhaps one way that brands can represent themselves are through actual personalities behind it. While Wendy’s or Amul have successfully humanised their corporate entity, Space X and Tesla have Elon Musk as their brand representative.
Musk, has famously gained a reputation for posting memes (and eventually becoming one himself) which end up indirectly marketing his companies. When Tesla launched Cybertruck, the internet didn’t hold back with the memes.
What one might call silly internet memes, led to over 146K pre-orders of the truck with no advertising or paid endorsement. Now that, is how you do meme marketing.
2. McDonalds: As we’ve seen, memes are a great way to start the conversation around any product. McDonalds resorted to memes for the launch for their limited-edition Szechuan sauce. Here’s the meme McDonalds posted:
It all really started with Rick and Morty, one of the most popular adult animated shows reinstated the obsession around Szechuan sauce when in one of the episodes, the main character Rick is determined to find the original sauce. This led to the show’s fanbase to craze over the special edition dipping sauce which eventually was re-released last year.
The anticipation over the sauce was so hyped that the rollout ended up causing “riots” and many stores even ran out of the sauce. The whole debacle forced McDonalds to even release an apology.
What we can learn from this incident is that meme don’t necessarily have to be tweets, tv series and other pop culture moments can often contribute to the popularity of the brand as well.
2. Oreo Thins: Oreo used memes as a tool for engagement when they tweeted out this:
This is an example of a text-based meme which repurposes and parodies the original meme template of “Oh you love the band X? Name Three of Their Albums.” Oreo used this meme to engage with their audiences and on a cleverer business-side of things, it also helped them gauge whether the audiences are interested in the product. Here, memes work as a way of market research whilst doubling down on brand engagement.
4. Zomato: In India, Zomato’s meme marketing game is commendable. From text-based tweets to witty copy, the consistency with which Zomato posts memes is key in making them an effective strategy in the business model.
Some examples of how Zomato uses memes as a marketing strategy involve:
The Fine Print: Advantages and Disadvantages of Meme Marketing
· Low-cost: When it comes to developing a campaign, the level of investment is low compared to more upscale brand campaigns.
· Wide reach: Thanks to the virality and accessibility of internet, memes can reach a large audience instantly.
· The Internet WOM: The internet way of word-of-mouth take place through the dms and tags. When you see a meme you like, you immediately send it to your friend, quickening up the process of shareability.
· Short lifespan: The cycle of content online is harshly dynamic. Memes come and go; they don’t have a lasting impact. Hence timing is ultimately crucial.
· Lack of control in the messaging: Once you hit post, your content becomes a property of everyone on the internet. It can be perceived, twisted, applauded in anyway. This poses a liability for a lot of the brand content being put as memes.
· The thin line: When it comes to memes or even just using humour, there is a thin line between making a joke and coming off as trying too hard, you must tread carefully.
In conclusion, meme marketing encompasses a whole range of ways in which content can be created to advertise the brand or any of its products. As we understand the relationship between internet and consumer behaviour, the importance of shaping the online persona reflects the efforts behind branding.
Low costs and investments make memes a highly favourable choice, given that you consistently and timely post them. Everyone loves memes, and whether you’re a company or an just building your own personal brand, a little bit of humour and creativity can do wonders for your marketing campaigns.
· Meme marketing: How viral marketing adapts to the internet culture by Triet Minh Ngo
· More Than A Trend: Meme Marketing Is Here To Stay