Memes are a part of culture, and a big part of the internet as a whole. In fact, many people first discover the meaning of the word through their experiences on the internet, perhaps from a silly picture or a video that went viral, but for others it’s nothing more than a strange sounding word with no meaning behind it. If you don’t know what a meme is, allow us to explain:
A meme is a cultural phenomenon in which ideas, stories or concepts are spread from person to person.
There are lot of things outside of the internet that are memes; linguistic phrases, fairy tales, even the origin of Superman. What’s important to remember is that is something catches on and becomes a meme, that meme will stick. It may be around for weeks, months, or carry throughout history, but memes have staying power. Because of this, memes are something that marketers should be paying close attention to.
Though it might seem like the majority of memes are juvenile, pointless or there for the sole purpose of entertainment, it’s clear that their influence is much more widespread than you’d initially think. In fact, we have seen a recent role reversal in terms of advertising and marketing. It used to be that a popular advert would seep itself into public consciousness and spread like a virus through word of mouth and exposure, and we’ve seen this countless times (does anyone really want to remember the Crazy Frog?), but nowadays this is no longer the case. Following the advancement of the internet and its impact on people’s day-to-day lives, memes and social trends are now influencing advertisements.
There have been a few advertising campaigns that have encapsulated this attitude recently. One of the more striking examples is that of the Three Pony; a series of videos that seemed to become more and more ludicrous with each new entry. The premise was simple but memorable: a Shetland pony named Socks that dances. It was clearly an advert that was trying to become something bigger and in fairness to Three, they achieved what they set out to; the advert was an instant success and took the internet by storm. Whether you yourself responded with delighted laughter or a bemused grunt, everyone remembered the advert, everyone remembered the pony and, most crucially, everyone remembered the company it represented.
First Direct followed this up with something similar, making use of a Platypus named Barry to push the ‘unexpected bank.’ However, it could also be argues that these adverts were effective only in creating the meme rather than making an advert that stuck in people’s minds as well as showcasing their services. In the case of Three especially, the pony was the star, not the company. Even if you knew it was Three that produced the ad, you didn’t come away any more enlightened on what the company was offering.
Should you or shouldn’t you?
So, should digital marketers be more considerate of memes when developing and making use of search engine optimisation techniques? It certainly couldn’t hurt, though it’s clear from the earlier examples discussed that the meme can sometimes overtake the brand making use of it. That said, the pony and the platypus were efforts to break into the internet world made by people that work in television; digital marketing requires a different approach. Memes come from all kinds of places and can be used by anyone; it’s an intrinsic part of their appeal and the reason why they are so pervasive in our society to begin with, and if done right, digital marketers could effectively and creatively make use of memes in their work. When a meme catches on, people search for it through Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Google…it’s a great opportunity to raise awareness of your brand.