Memes have been around for a long time, including annoying icanhascheezburger memes of cats that can talk/act like humans or the never ending Chuck Norris references. Memes are the argot of the internet. This year Tumblr image sharers started focusing on small image concepts (sometimes basic flash and/or video based) to communicate emotions or ideas. Most commonly, you’d see a phrase followed by explanation of it or answer to it via image. They take on all sorts of tones: comedic, emo, serious, political or just plain pointless. Even with the plain pointless ones, there’s something more important to look at and that’s shareability:
Memes get looked at.
Memes get shared.
This really hits home on Facebook, where we frequently see meme explosions, most recently with occupational memes. Remember the “What I do” image chains that just about everyone was reposting last week?
That specific meme is what caught my own attention. Everyone was sharing it despite their distinct interests and backgrounds. Memeticist and author of The Meme Machine Susan Blackmore, explains why: “Memes are essentially selfish pieces of information trying to use our brains to get themselves copied and passed on.”
“Memes” were first coined in Richard Dawkins book, The Selfish Gene, where he described “a meme as the social equivalent of a gene; ideas that make up the building blocks of culture are spread by imitation.”
So what is it about memes that gets people interested?
- Communication – Memes aren’t text heavy. They’re simple to grasp and so anyone can understand them.
- Image – Most memes are accompanied by an image. Those that are not, that come down to us as memorable quotes (“Over nine-thousaaaaand,” anybody?) are already embedded strongly within the internet’s cultural consciousness and evoke specific image-based memories. This is why it makes sense that memes gained a footing in Tumblr, an image-based blog platform designed for quick expressions rather than an image archive (such as Pinterest). Memes can become more complex as they make their way to Facebook. All memes in turn can relate back to the popularity of image-based marketing, which now extends to include Pinterest and infographics.
- Appeal – Equally as important, memes cater to our own ego in some way – even if it’s just something amusing to look at as a small distraction for our 9-5 drudge. Even the most basic pointless meme gets shared; smart memes go viral.
How You Can Take Advantage of the Meme Trend
Meme marketing is known as “memetic marketing.” But it’s not your traditional marketing route; it’s a guerrilla marketing approach designed to help a message go viral. And why does a message go viral more easily with meme marketing? Simply because of the points stated above: communication, image and appeal. All these factors are now more relative in the type of media consumption structure we have today with social forums.
Tips to Make Your Meme Go Viral
Memetic marketing can be used by just about anyone, including advertising and marketing professionals. To get your meme to go viral, you should try to:
Appeal – Memes shouldn’t be too specific to any one group unless you’re marketing exclusively within that group. You can also create specific memes but then create different versions of that (though bear in mind that converting your company’s equivalent of “Chocolate Rain” to “Chocolate Cherry Diet Dr. Pepper” may have limited memetic appeal).
Humor – The best memes are funny, and funny will always get shared. The smarter and more original your meme is, the higher chances of it going viral. The guy who created the “What White Chicks Say to Indian Girls” meme shot to over 150K YouTube hits over two days, and was shared and re-shared by some of the biggest Indians in the industry. The idea wasn’t original, since by then there were dozens of spin off takes on “What White Girls Say,” but this specific version was funny, well executed and, this is key, relatable beyond just racial divides.
Platforms – Before you get started on creating your meme, consider which platform it’d be best for, how you want users to share it and where your target audience is. While memes cross platforms (and that is how you should also release it), they tend to be more successful along one or two platforms tops. If you have the time, budget and are backed by a creative team, consider investing a portion of your memetic marketing in YouTube.
Independents have seen their own careers launched from simply creating incredibly witty and creative themed videos, usually starring the same group of people. What started as a curious passion arising out of boredom has now turned some independents into internet sensations. The same application could make or break your next campaign.