What began as just silly internet humor has exploded over the last eight years into an essential marketing tactic. Memes started to gain global popularity in early 2012 with clever large bubbly letter captions over a picture. The first mainstream memes we saw were the pictures of Willy Wonka, Bad Luck Brian, Boromir from Lord of the Rings with the caption “One Does Not Simply”, the baby holding up a fist, the aliens’ guy from the History Channel and a few others. In 2020, memes have become a part of our daily lives on social media with seemingly infinite different styles and humors. Over the past few years, I have used memes to promote a wide variety of brands ranging from cannabis products to famous musical talents, including Russ, Joyner Lucas, Missy Elliott, Maxo Kream and Chris Webby.
For most millennials and even the older generations, memes have become a part of our daily lives when we open up any social media app. Everyone has their preference, some enjoy political memes while others prefer relatable humor about taking too strong of an edible or being outrageously hungover on Sundays. Memes have created a new form of communication between us and our friends and families with whom we may not talk with on a regular basis. Sending a meme can act as a new way of reaching out, carrying the unspoken message of “I saw this, thought it was funny and thought you might also enjoy this.” During this quarantine, sending memes back and forth with friends and family has been a source of distraction and happiness for me. With memes being such a big part of our lives, this has presented a new way to market products to a brands target audience.
After clicking on a YouTube video, there is nothing we as the viewer look forward to more than watching that 5 second countdown until we can skip the ad and get to our video. In meme marketing, my goal is to make viewing an ad as enjoyable as possible so the viewer does not feel inconvenienced. One method I consistently use is to Photoshop a company’s product into a trending meme. For a recent artist I promoted, the picture I used was an animated couple lying in bed watching TV. On the TV I placed the artists’ music video. I then took that image and used a relatable caption to fit the style of the majority of general niche humor meme pages on Instagram. This is one of my more subtle ways to advertise so it stands out as not just another ad you can’t wait to press skip on or scroll past.
The most time consuming part of meme marketing is sourcing and creating content. For many huge companies, social content has to go through a review process from a handful of different people in various departments before being posted. This process can often take days to weeks which is no longer sustainable in the constantly evolving world of social media. Everything happens in an instant on social media and often trends may last for only a day. When it comes to understanding what meme format is currently trending, I have found it works best to scroll through Twitter, Instagram and Reddit to see what formats are being used the most. It is also important to look at what memes people are sending to you. I have a friend who is always on top of their meme game and consistently sends me the best memes on Instagram. This will often give me inspiration for content I can create for my personal pages or clients. Another tactic I employ is binge watching TV shows. Yes, that’s right I said binge watching TV. We all do it, but while you binge watch, pay attention to funny actions by the actors or phrases they use that you feel would be a worthy GIF or a scene you can turn into your own meme. Tiger King would have never garnered the popularity that it got if it wasn’t for the memes about the show. Constantly seeing content from the show will push people to become interested enough to see where all these memes came from. People who have never seen a Star Wars movie before, bought Disney+ to watch the Mandalorian because when the show first released, you weren’t able to scroll your timeline without seeing adorable Baby Yoda content.
Brands incorporating memes into their marketing should consider it to be an essential tactic. The days of TV ads are coming to an end. Memes give brands the ability to create funny content on a consistent basis that their customers will want to share with their following. This type of steady exposure is way more sustainable and cheaper than spending $5 million on a Super Bowl ad with the hopes of it going viral.