Using Internet Memes for Marketing

Given the definition of a meme, you may already be using them in your marketing mix. For example, I noticed a lot of disappointing movies advertising that they would be debuting during Super Bowl weekend, tying their dates to a symbol that is widely known and memorable in our culture of beer guts and pig skins.

Internet culture is slightly different, although beer guts are still plenty acceptable. Many of the original internet memes were spawned by the heroes of 4chan, such as LOLcats and demotivational posters. Do you know the meme that sparked the popularity of Domo Kun in the US? Nintendo hopes not, and I won’t say as I’m not sure what age group finds this blog entertaining.

The main advantage of meme marketing is not only the ability to tie arbitrary information to something meaningful, but also that this generation loves a good joke and will make your message go viral. Which you want very much.

If you are going to enter this world of vicious hilarity, it is absolutely imperative that you (and the organization you represent) have a sense of humor and the ability to endure a good joke. You’ve been warned; I take no responsibility for any sleepless nights incurred amongst countless tear-soaked tissues.

Step 1:

Educate yourself on current memes. Check out 4chan, subscribe to Know Your Meme, and have a glance at what’s trending on Twitter.

Start by sharing the memes others have created. If you can find some that relate to your industry, fabulous. Though as I will show you later, that’s not absolutely essential.  Try opening a Google image search with something like “meme + [industry keyword].”

Here’s what I got with “meme + plumber”:

Post a couple of those up every now and then.  You don’t want to go crazy with it, although I understand how tempting it can be to share something hilarious right away.  Fight the impulse and spread it thin.

Step 2:

Start making your own versions of current memes. Wonderful Pistachios does a great job of this, even when the topic is nothing relative to nuts.

Of course, photos are way easier. Generally two skills are pertinent to this process, a little bit of digital imaging (“Photoshop”) knowhow, and the ability to crack a clever quip in a small amount of space. Usually if you can master the second bit, you can get away with a crappy photo you made in Paintbrush.  Sometimes all it takes is for you to add words to a picture, and icanhascheezburger has made that so very simple. Test your skills with this meme builder.

In other cases, you don’t even need text, just a funny picture, such as with the Paula Deen Riding Things meme. Perhaps our plumber might have her straddling a drain snake thingy, or the back of someone’s low-riding jeans.

Remember that in any case the goal is to be clever, with big bonus points for simplicity.

Step 3:

When your fans have gotten used to your sense of humor, you can up the ante by taking it interactive. You might post a picture like this one, which I found by Google image searching “Plumber + needs caption.”

Stick that piece of gold up on your page with the message “ADD YOUR OWN CAPTION” and be sure to Like or RT the responses, inspiring future interaction. You can also encourage people to share the image on their own wall or Twitter feed, inviting their friends to play along.

Again, you are allowed to reach outside your direct industry for inspiration, especially when you have established yourself as a source of comical amusement.

Step 4:

Step four is not for everyone, and that is to come up with your own meme. It’s really tricky and definitely not to be attempted until you are a meme expert and your audience is fully engaged in your shenanigans.

An example of this would be HootSuite’s “Owling” contest, in which they asked users to submit photos of themselves crouching like owls. This idea came from the planking phenomenon which captivated giggling interwebbers for months.

However, even the giant HootSuite had some difficulty pulling this off. I don’t know why people are so disinclined to enter photo contests with as easy as picture uploads have become, but that’s just how it is.

And you can pretty much forget about video contests. I worked for an organization that offered teenagers, the most tech-savvy breed of subhuman, $500 (which is like $7,500 in teen dollars at the current exchange rate) for a simple video. One kid entered the contest. She wrapped Christmas lights around herself and won $500 for it.

Of course, in certain niche markets this can be pulled off.  Viewers of Americas Funniest Home Videos got pretty excited about demolishing innocent snowmen, and Daniel Tosh can get people to film themselves doing pretty much anything.  If you are not either of those entities, proceed with caution. Give your audience the tools to succeed, an idea to spark creativity, and the flexibility to take it in their own direction.  The latter was what made planking so popular – everyone had a different take of the original idea.

Internet memes are about fun. If this is suitable to your organization’s culture, have at it. You’ll find it a lot more entertaining than drafting a press release.


About inkstainedknuckle

I'm a social media specialist with a fresh outlook and keen sense of diction. The world is my walnut.
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3 Responses to Using Internet Memes for Marketing

  1. Thanks for sharing the HootSuite story! We had a lot of spontaneous fun with the Owly.

  2. This is an interesting way of using memes to ones advantage. I always figured memes were a little fringe and outside the realm of social appropriate conduct. Plus regulare people probably shouldn’t visit 4chan.

  3. Haha you make a good point. 4chan is definitely NSFW.

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