If your business or brand needs to reach out to millennials or younger consumers, you have probably already heard about that strange and elusive marketing tool: Memes.
For the uninitiated, memes are essentially viral inside jokes – usually in the form of images, animated GIFs, or videos. These get passed around and edited repeatedly, and eventually whatever event or joke triggered the frenzy of activity is buried.
Despite arguments to the contrary, leveraging memes for marketing purposes is tricky. They often emerge from niche communities, so they tend to reference concepts that require insider knowledge. Simply seeing a meme widely shared — even among millions of users — does not make it fair game for marketing use.
Here are three telling examples of the ways memes play out in social media marketing, with varying results.
The Good: That Man Loves That Burger And I Want One Too!
Daymon Patterson’s Five Guys Burgers and Fries was a fast food video review that went viral and quickly became the subject of countless image edits, GIFs and spin-off videos. To this day, the video inspires comments about needing to rush off to get a Five Guys burger.
While it wasn’t paid for directly by Five Guys, this meme exemplifies the importance for genuine origins in viral marketing. Nobody but Patterson could create a video like this. Rather than looking at existing memes, marketers should consider finding interesting people with an amusing and unique point of view communicated through their work.
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The Bad: No, I’m Not Loving It.
In one of the early clashes between Internet culture and mass marketing, McDonald’s attempted to co-opt common Internet slang often seen in the mid-2000’s memes of the day. The resulting ad included the lines, “Double cheeseburger? I’d hit it. I’m a dollar menu guy.”
“I’d hit it” was common slang at the time, appearing in memes referring to products (often video game consoles) coveted by young people. However, it did not stand for a benign vote of approval; the phrase refers more to, well, becoming physically intimate.
It got young people talking about the brand. But sadly, the ensuing conversation illustrated how out of touch McDonald’s was.
The Ugly: Fracking is cool, right guys? …Right?
Finally, we fast-forward to the present. Frack Feed is an attempt to change public opinion of hydraulic fracturing by hijacking dozens of pre-existing memes, but unfortunately with little regard for their context. The discussion it has inspired is probably not what the team behind this site expected.
Memes and viral content are capable of giving as much as they take away. With savvy marketing, advantageous usage of memes can work – but be wary, and do your research. An image that seems harmlessly strange might actually imply something you don’t want your brand or company associated with.