Meme Discourse 101
Why should brands care about memes? Simply put, consumers are inundated with ads that are easy to tune out, scroll past, and swipe through because they do next to nothing to engage your consumer. Social media has given brands a pathway to interact and observe on the same playing field as their consumers, but that proximity does not guarantee a connection. Meme marketing turns out to be one of the most effective ways to bridge those missed connections when it’s done right. Set aside the B2C aspect of this relationship for a moment. For any conversation to be productive, both parties need to speak a little bit of the same language. And memes are the modern language of the internet, that’s showbiz baby.
No other form of media has globally unified fandoms, cultures, histories, and entire countries the way that memes have. Beyond their status as a pillar of internet identity, memes are an extremely effective (and oftentimes free) marketing tool that demonstrate you understand your audience because you’ve learned to speak their language. Meme marketing also removes that awkward barrier that consciously or subconsciously signals to a user that they are being sold to. Memes are exceptional for building or reshaping a brand’s identity in this way because they humanize and humorize advertising.
Memes are the language brands need to speak and social media platforms are the dialects they need to master. Each social site has unspoken rules that inform user-to-user interaction and therefore audience reach.
Before we dive into dialects, here’s a quick crash course on how brands should think about creating memes:
- Pick a problem you can aggravate or exploit — the fundamental appeal of a good meme is that it’s relatable. Think about problems that your product/service directly solves as a good jump-off point.
- Exascerbate the problem — what are common reactions or scenarios in which your consumers might encounter this problem? This should inspire the fundamentals of your meme.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here’s a breakdown on how brands can flex their meme fluency based on which app or audience they’re trying to tap into.
- By the numbers, Instagram is where 1.3B users share photos, videos, and carousels.
- Perceptively, IG has evolved into more of an ecommerce hub than a social media site, although the line between the two has become increasingly harder to define as more brands market their products through IG influencers that give their products/services more of a lifestyle aesthetic. In contrast, Instagram memes often reject that clean, minimalist design many of us have become accustomed to seeing in awareness-style carousels. Popular IG meme pages like Pubity, entrapranure, or daquan often share clunky or poorly photoshopped image macros that have built a collective following of 48 million users that comment, share, or remix their own versions. It’s also worth noting that a lot of IG meme pages pull images or quotes directly from meme-centric platforms like TikTok and Twitter.
- For brands, this first reinforces the need for an omnichannel social media team who can leverage their awareness of viral trends outside of Instagram to forecast what’s likely to spread. More importantly, brands need to create more of a balance on their grid that blends the over-polished lifestyle imagery with raw and relatable content that much like a meme itself, encourages users to share or remix their own versions instead of just scrolling past it.
- Prime example: Chipotle’s Instagram has done this well, curating a grid of meme-centric content that both centers its food as the subject but also demonstrates a clear understanding of cultural relevancy. On April 21st, Chipotle posted a popular image macro “dudes be like ‘I’m fighting demons’ and the demon is just (x)” — they poorly photoshopped the remixable caption to read “putting the lid back on a burrito bowl.” The comments on the post show why this can be so effective, with many users commenting “me” or tagging a different user to share the meme with.
- By the numbers: 400 million users post text, links, images and video in 280 characters or less.
- Perceptively, Twitter has evolved an experimental place for brands to be a little more edgy, to converse directly with individual users or other brands. Twitter’s reputation as an instant news source has also made the site the most conversation driven of the key players on this list.
- For newer brands, this means Twitter is the best place to start experimenting if your brand is still finding its foothold and online voice. For veteran brands, it’s an insights hub into what your consumers are talking about and an opportunity for real-time and overtly honest feedback. Following our formula of exploiting a relatable problem or scenario, Twitter meme marketing offers the most free range in terms of how silly, lewd, or edgy a brand can be for the purpose of boosting a meme’s virality. Twitter’s daily trending categories also offer brands a plethora of ways to meme culturally relevant topics.
- Prime example: AriZona Iced Tea does a great job of bridging meme marketing with cultural relevancy. Last week, they tweeted a poorly photoshopped image of an AriZona can “arriving” on the Met Gala steps. More notably, one of their memes went viral last month amidst rising inflation rates that pointed out the company hasn’t raised its prices since the ’90s. The image macro came from a popular video game and racked up 667k likes, 103k reshares, and 3.7k comments. They smartly bumped these numbers up by responding to majority of the individual users in the comment thread and by proxy, boosted visibility of the meme into newsfeeds of those who had not previously engaged with the tweet but who likely followed a user that had.
- By the numbers: As of Q4 2021, they had 1.2 billion monthly active users according to Statista.
- Perceptively, TikTok is known by marketers as a Gen Z goldmine because it’s where younger users (ages 13–25) spend majority of their time. TikTok’s focus on viral trends encourages users to make their own videos and duet with other TikTokers. Comment copypasta has also become an unspoken rule of the app where it’s common for TikTokers to blow up the comment section on videos with references and slang like “crop” or “story time”.
- For brands, meme marketing on TikTok is largely based on the app’s current trends or viral sounds. This is step 1 of TikTok’s “Flicker, Flash, Flare” strategy that encourages brands to focus their most frequently posted videos around emerging trends, this content is reactive. Next, brands should balance that frequency with original content ideas/videos posted weekly or monthly that show off more the brand’s voice, this content is proactive. Lastly, larger scale videos or campaigns should be rare, posted 1–3 times a year, this content is interactive.
- Prime example: DuoLingo is one of the more active brands on TikTok doing a great job of demonstrating each step of this flicker, flare, and flash content strategy. They regularly post POV/ “flicker” style videos of their mascot that combine viral sounds with their beloved owl mascot. Less regularly, they “flash” educational videos where TikTokers can learn a new word or phrase in another language in less than a minute.
Know Your Meme Insights is a team of dedicated experts backed by the world’s largest internet culture database dedicated to researching and documenting online history and viral phenomena. Our influencer reports fuse current trends and historical data with actionable insights with curation where you need it: audience makeup, brand safety and more.
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