In the past few years, I’ve seen Internet marketers divide themselves into two distinct camps: those who embrace memes and consider them a powerful marketing tool, and those who dismiss them as an off-brand waste of time. The battle lines have been drawn in blogs, forums, and by the water cooler, and there are compelling arguments for both cases.
But here’s the thing: The term “meme” has been in use for almost 40 years, encompasses a vast variety of cultural phenomenon, and is an absolute cornerstone of modern marketing.
If you’ve ever seen an Energizer Bunny commercial, been privy to a “Kodak Moment”, or watched as Gatorade was poured over a coach’s head and felt just the slightest twinge of professional jealousy, then you’ve already bought into the power of memes in marketing.
What Is A Meme?
This is a question that’s been asked many, many, many times, but I’ve yet to see a source that succinctly encapsulates the richness of the medium. In its simplest form, a meme could be thought of as the manifestation of a social phenomenon — one that spreads and evolves as it progresses throughout its lifespan. In its purest form, the term “meme” is broad enough to be applied to nearly anything (think Greek architectural styles still used today). But for the sake of this article, let’s boil it down to five relevant categories:
|Video||A video trend/fad that takes the Internet by storm.||YouTube Marriage Proposals, Let’s Play, Cat Videos, Fast Food Freestyle|
|Physical||A meme that focuses around a physical activity, whether alone or in groups.||The Harlem Shake, Planking, The Cinnamon Challenge|
|Digital||Memes that originate and primarily exist in the digital world.||Hashtags, Rick Rolling, Emoticons, Slacktivism|
|Catchphrase||An “inside joke” reference that originated on the Internet.||Trolling, 1337, OVER 9000!, Epic Fail|
|Macros||What most people think of when they hear the word “meme” — includes popular online images with captions.||Good Guy Greg, Philosoraptor, Ancient Aliens, True Story|
As you work on your own viral marketing strategy, I’m sure you’ll be able to think of other categories as well, but these categories make an excellent foundation to start with — and can easily be combined to for additional strategic variety.
Why Is Meme Marketing Powerful?
As a someone who’s taken a leadership role in online communities since the days of the BBS, I learned one thing quickly: you can try to do it all on your own, or you can find a bunch of enthusiastic people who want to work with you. Memes provide you with free, easy-to-create content that immediately resonates with the online audience in a positive, social way. And even if it doesn’t go viral, using an image as a thumbnail on your post can increase comments by 50% and likes by 65%, according to John Shehata, Director of Search & Social of ABC News.
This is about more than simply increasing your company’s likability — it’s about demonstrating the ability to bring humor to your subject. Think of it this way: to report data and industry news on a subject demonstrates your ability to research, process information, and report on it. To create a meme that brings a humorous tone to the table reflects a company that has a much more sophisticated involvement in the subject, and a more hands-on, organic understanding of the industry they serve.
Protip: Albert Einstein didn’t say that.
Marketing With Macros
Marketing with macros — those hilarious, viral pictures you see everywhere — is accomplished in three steps:
1. Familiarize Yourself With Macros
Macros are powerful things. Before you tap into the energy that took the “funniest home video” craze of the 90’s and transformed it into YouTube, you need to understand what you’re working with, or you risk being misunderstood.
For example, if you don’t know the difference between a penguin facing to the left with a blue background, a penguin facing to the left with a green background, and a penguin facing to the right with a red background, or you’re unsure whether that stick figure is holding a broom or a torch, it’s time to do your homework. A great starting place is knowyourmeme.com.
Similarly to an old joke, you don’t want to use a stale meme, so be sure to brush up your knowledge on sites like Reddit or 9Gag. Check out which memes are trending, and find one that’s fresh and wildly popular. Memes tend to have a very short shelf life, so adopt them quickly, then drop them.
2. Create Your Macro
Feel free to use Photoshop or a web service like www.memegenerator.com, but you can also make excellent memes (with no third-party logo) right in Google+. Simply upload the image, click on the “add text” button underneath (second one from the left), and type away. Be careful not to pick one that violates intellectual copyright law — as a for-profit organization, you adhere to different rules than the average internet user.
The best memes are usually short and sweet — a one-shot punchline. If you’re not sure you hit the sweet spot, make a few versions of your meme, and share them with your friends and coworkers to see if they think they’re funny too.
Important reminder: This is about the community — not you. Know your audience, and what they’re likely to find funny. Don’t be too overt about promoting your own products, don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at yourself, and definitely be careful not to offend anyone!
3. Get Found
Once created, it’s time to maximize on your meme’s chances of success. If you’re posting it on your blog or website, include a sharing functionality (case study: memegenerator), and size your images so they’re optimized for social. Share your image at least once on Facebook and Pinterest, and several times on Twitter.
If your meme is funny outside of the context of your company’s online properties, be sure to drop it on social sites like Reddit and Tumblr as well. If you do, it doesn’t hurt to include a very small, very subtle brand watermark on the image. If your meme turns out to be really popular, consider ways to bring it offline as well (think: t-shirts, print media, or something even more creative).
As a final note, when you upload the image to your blog or website, include the full text of the meme in the image’s alt text. This content will be indexed on Google, and will make it easier for people who use a search engine to find your meme to end up on your online properties.
The term “#meme” has been used for 40 years and is a cornerstone of modern #marketing. Learn more here: http://adec.co/1fCHY0N
Making A Video Meme
Love ’em or hate ’em, you’ve got to hand it to Budweiser: they know how to make viral content. From the frogs to the Clydesdales to their “King of Beers” slogan, they’ve got one of the best marketing teams in the world. But for my money, they really outdid themselves with the video they put out last month:
Three weeks in, and it’s already got nearly 18 million views. Incredible, right? But man, what a lot of money they must have dropped on that! Video marketing of any type is expensive, and a typical marketing team won’t have the budget (or the manpower) for something of that caliber. If your budget isn’t through the roof but you’d still like to try your hand on video marketing , here’s a few less exorbitant techniques that worked out nicely:
Technique 1: Hitch A Ride On An Existing Meme
This is a creative approach can save you tens of thousands of dollars of video production. Remember the “fast food freestyle” craze that went around a few years ago? Entertainment duo “Rhett and Link” rode this wave by “memejacking” it and giving it their own quirky spin. The result? A folksy video that required a car side camera and a couple days of writing and practice, and they created a sensation that’s brought in more than 8.5 million views to date:
Technique 2: Invite Your Audience To Make Meme Videos
Is your audience engaged in your brand? Come up with something extremely fun to make a video about, and invite them to play along with you by submitting videos of their own. Compile their videos into a video of your own, put it online, and viola! The seeds of viral content are sown.
Comedian Jimmy Kimmel did this masterfully by challenging parents to tell their kids they ate all their Halloween candy, make a video of their reaction, and then send it to him. What he created was such a smash hit — so much so that he followed up with a similar series where the kids are given a terrible early Christmas present. He’s been doing it for three years straight — the camerawork is terrible, the kids are furious, the views per video are in the tens of millions, and the result is just a little hilarious. (Just a little bit.)
Technique 3: Hire A Vlogger
If you’re worried you don’t have “the touch”, consider hiring someone who does it for a living. Lonely Planet did this by hiring Natalie Tran, professional blogger of the YouTube channel “CommunityChannel”, and sent her around the world to make videos on location. It was a smash hit; her quirky and humorous videos range in views from 200,000-750,000+ views apiece.
Don’t want to make a series? Samsung hired “Overly Attached Girlfriend” for a one-shot promotion of their products. I’m not sure how much they paid the 21-year old vlogger to make the video, but the video was a huge success — reaching more than 5.5 million viewers to date (Their second most popular video weighs in at about 1.6 million visits).
Technique 4: Be Strange
This one’s risky, but when it works, it goes wild. If you can be strange enough in an interesting and funny way, the world will beat a digital path to your door. Case in point: The Old Spice Man. The video below launched a wildly successful (and very parodied) series, with the original alone bringing in nearly 48 million views to date:
Finally — Have Fun With It!
Memes are the joker in your deck of tricks, and are meant to be fun. Circulating a meme or two can liven up the office just as surely as it puts a grin on the face of your social media followers.
Worried about looking unprofessional? Take a play or two from the White House Facebook. They have no problem inserting a little humor — or even outright ridiculousness — into their work. On the other hand, they’re savvy too, and can create some pretty powerful memes by combining key quotes with a little in-house stock imagery. Using this kind of balanced approach, even the most serious industries can look fresh and charismatic, while still maintaining their professional sheen.
Either way, enjoy, experiment, and in the spirit of Google’ pillars of innovation: If you must fail, fail fast, so you can try again even faster!