Meme Marketing: Birth Of A New Consumer Language

It is odd for current users of various social media applications like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to imagine a life without tagging in each other in memes and posts that tickle our funny bone and leave us in splits.

The most surprising thing is the fact that ‘meme’ is not a millennial word but a word coined by an evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in a book he published in 1976 titled ‘The Selfish Gene’. Memes originally represented the idea of going viral within a society or a biological environment or system. According to the author himself, Dawkins decided memes are “an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. “On the account of this definition, our religions are also a meme as much as any of the memes circulating on our social media platforms.

With the rise of the Internet and social media, in particular, Memes of today have themselves become a ‘Meme’ with new viral content appearing in our news feeds every morning. These memes have turned out to be a rage, usually distributed through short clips or a sarcastic caption. In these days of such a fragmented media, these memes are redefining the communal experience, especially among the tech-savvy millennial generation.

Naturally, with a lot of people hooked on to Memes, brands have started jumping on the bandwagon to amplify their products.

Previously, brands targeted platforms like YouTube for potential customers, but that caused hindrance to the overall experience due to viewers skipping videos due to ads. So, the brands became smarter about the way they wanted to publish their content on social media. They started having less of overt advertisement and more of hilarious internet conversations for consumer interaction.

Now, there can be two strategies that a brand can adopt either they can piggyback an existing meme or start a new meme from scratch.

  • Piggybacking on existing memes

There some memes which can continue for months, and using these trending memes can actually help in resonating the brand to the audience. On the flip side, using a meme that is outdated or existing can appear lazy and unoriginal.

An example of piggybacking marketing can be the Chuck Norris and World of Warcraft video where the game developers used the always viral Chuck Norris jokes to promote their game leading to the video being viral as it perfectly aligned with their core demographics.

On the other hand, there was Gucci with a series of piggybacking memes that were used to promote the new line of watches which backfired tremendously.

  •  Creating New Memes

This approach requires a lot of creativity and thinking outside the box. It is like the modern equivalent of a viral catchphrase that goes into the slang vocabulary around the world. Memes like Drake dancing the awkward dad dance helped in the roaring success of his song ‘Hotline Bling’ helping it reach 1.3 billion views. Well, here’s an example
Considering the ‘memeification’ of social media campaigns, here is a five-point guideline on how to go from a crying Jordan to a success kid:

  • Speak the Language: Social media can be a really unforgiving place if you ever put a wrong step forward. To ensure that you are always game for anything viral, always hire people who speak the native language. (P.S. Nothing is more uncool than a company working too hard to look cool)
  •  Don’t take yourself too seriously: Never hesitate to get down and dirty by having some fun with memes. Always, remember memes work because they are silly and utterly ridiculous.  
  • Be comfortable, not everybody will understand: Hey all you Kotler fans. You guys know, it’s all about targeting that niche market. 
  • Increase shareability: How else could the memes you have made become viral, just use the relevant hashtags and engage your audience (Learn from the Instagram and Snapchat kings and queens, please.)
  • Be timely: It is a VUCA world, and the meme universe is no different. Timing is important. Be culturally aware and strike when the iron is hot.                                         


                                                                            Happy Meme Marketing, Fellas!

IMI New Delhi

International Management Institute, New Delhi