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Why Every Business Needs to Understand Memes

While memes are extremely popular with the younger generations and running rampant on social media, most businesses pay very little attention to them. As a top digital marketing agency, we feel that is a mistake as memes have become more than just something your kids talk about; they are part of our culture. That is why today we want to share Why Every Business Needs to Understand Memes along with how they can be used to drive engagement and interactions.

What exactly is a Meme?

A meme, pronounced “meem” with a long “e” and not “mem” like “men” or “me me”, as some adults have been chastised for saying, is an idea that spreads from person to person within a culture or an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online, especially through social media.

The term was originally created by Richard Dawkins who was an English author, evolutionist, and atheist. In his book The Selfish Gene a meme was thought to be the equivalent to culture as genes are to humans. Genes drive human evolution while memes drive cultural evolution in a form of pop-culture Darwinism.

Although many people might think they have only been around a brief time, by current definition they are over two decades old. Michael Girard was a graphic designer who created “Baby Cha-Cha-Cha” in 1996 for Autodesk to show how movement could be programmed and projected. It was turned into a GIF by a LucasArts developer and ended up gaining mainstream notoriety before ending up in an episode of the then very popular Ally McBeal television show.

“All Your Base Are Belongs to Us,” was created around the year 2000 and was the first image-meme using white block letters on an image. Both examples are tied to the internet, but there have been numerous other types going back to 1959 as logos, graffiti, or even doodles like “Kilroy was here,” based on the original meme definition.

For all intents and purposes, we will focus on the secondary definition as videos and captioned pictures are what people commonly refer to when discussing and sharing memes because these types spread widely and rapidly online which is why they should be understood by businesses.

The Value of Memes

There is a lot of value in memes, when used properly. Those last three words are a key point. Ones that are used improperly will face ridicule and possible scorn by an audience. A valuable tool for anyone using memes is the KnowYourMeme site.

Fun facts:

  • Teachers have begun trying to use memes to better interact with students
  • Elon Musk reached out to PewdiePie (Highest subscribed channel on YouTube with 82 million viewers) to host “meme review”
  • Both YouTube and Twitter were considered by many businesses as silly without practical uses when they began gaining popularity

Memes should be viewed by a business as a form of technology. They travel quickly, convey information or meaning using a brief format, and are usable for numerous situations and/or platforms. Additionally, they typically use some level of humor which combined with cultural references offers a high level of engagement and shareability which is perfect for the internet age.

They are also a great way to humanize a brand and showcase an authentic voice.

How to Get Started with Memes

  • Know your audience – First, it is important to understand if your audience will care about or appreciate memes. In some cases, the core audience might have a hard time understanding memes and they should not be used. In other cases, the demographic will dictate which types of memes will be more engaging. Review your customer personas for the main segments of the audience to better understand if who you are speaking to will appreciate memes.
  • Use the proper tone – In marketing, tone can be everything. Along with providing brand consistency, tone is important in matching the personality of the brand to ensure the meme “rings true”. It is important to not sound offensive or come across as too smart, cocky, or use references that are too obscure.
  • Find the right amount of humor – Using humor is an easy way to connect emotionally with an audience along with sounding human. However, it is still important to use just the right amount of humor, even if making fun of your own brand. Don’t force it.
  • Test – This cannot be stressed enough. Take the time to test out your memes before letting them lose on the internet. Even if you have a start-up filled with millennials who understand memes, testing is always an important part of successful marketing. This goes double if your team is just getting started with memes.
  • Don’t overuse them – Even for a millennial brand, there is a limit on how much you should use anything. Memes should be looked at as a delicious dessert. They can be highly effective, but you can’t eat it for every meal because all that sugar will eventually make you sick.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that every business needs to understand memes because they have become incredibly popular and spread quickly about the internet. Memes can cause trends and make things happen, and as such have proven themselves to be a powerful tool of engagement that businesses can make use of when approached properly.


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