• Innes McArthur

Marketing with Memes. How to Relate to The Digital World

The internet, and the generations raised on it, has its own unique culture that brands have failed to relate to. Memes are their way in.

If you’ve spent any time on social media then you’ve come across your fair share of memes, whether you know it or not. The internet is full of funny images, videos and trends that are shared amongst online users.

But what is a meme? Luckily, you’ve got me, a self-proclaimed meme connoisseur, to help you with that.

For the sake of simplicity, a meme is a cultural trend that gains popularity from being shared from one individual to another.

As a result, it comes as no surprise that the internet, the utopian platform of information sharing, has become the home of digital memes.

Today, memes act as popular forms of communication and entertainment among online communities, especially with Gen Z and Millennials. In fact, over half of 13-35-year-olds send memes every week, and a third said they send them every day.

What’s more, memes make up 85% of content that’s shared on the internet and social media platforms. From popular tv shows to politics, no topic is safe from the satirical nature of a good old meme.

Memes are a key form of communication that resonates with younger audiences, and they can be your secret weapon for reaching a consumer base that’s previously neglected your business of any attention.

What Do You Meme? - A Culture Misunderstood

Memes are simple tools of communication that signify one’s relationship with a specific subculture in society.

This is especially the case with Millennials and Gen Z who have grown up with the internet meme culture that fills social media platforms today.

Traditionally, for businesses, it is this demographic of younger audiences that are the most difficult culture for marketers to appeal to.

Millennials and Gen Z are notoriously difficult groups to market to. Adverse to traditional marketing methods and stubborn in their ways, younger audiences have been a thorn in the side of marketers for years.

However, the reason behind the marketers’ difficulty isn’t because young people are rebellious for the sake of it. It’s because most brands are completely disenfranchised from that audience on a cultural level.

The “Silence Brand” meme was born out of the younger generations’ disdain for businesses marketing campaigns that tried desperately to appeal to an audience they just didn’t understand.

Brands are only beginning to find out who Millennials are and change their marketing strategy accordingly, meanwhile they know nothing about the elusive Gen Z.

Gen Z are a generation that favour brands that relate to them. They don’t care how great your product is, they care about the ‘lifestyle’ it offers and how your brand resonates with them and their identity.

And what better way to relate to a young, tech-savvy consumer than through memes?

Yes, really. Memes are an incredibly powerful marketing tool for improving your brand's performance with younger audiences.

Not only are you connecting with Millennials and Gen Z, you’re also appealing to them by showing that you’re not another uptight, faceless corporation.

Memes aren’t merely funny images or videos, they’re a form of communication that are a second instinct to today’s digital consumers.

They’re a fantastic method for reaching audiences who, traditionally, avoid your brand’s marketing attempts. Using memes allow you to relate to young social media users by showing you understand them and their digital culture.

However, so far, many brands have failed to use memes successfully in their marketing campaigns. Why? Their marketing teams are full of the boomer generation who are using memes that Millennials and Gen Z laugh and cringe at.

There’s even an entire subreddit dedicated to mocking brands that are trying too hard (and failing even harder) at appealing to younger generations.

The reasons brands have traditionally failed to appeal to younger audiences through memes is because they feel forced.

The post is created like a traditional ad and no longer represents a meme, meaning it no longer relates and communicates to younger generations.

A meme (even in marketing) isn’t supposed to be an ad, it’s intended to be a form of cultural commentary that shows your brand is in touch with the culture of their target consumers.

Businesses have only recently begun to understand the meme culture of younger audiences. And, thanks to platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, brands of all sizes and niches are beginning to market (successfully) through memes.

While there aren’t many brands that are actively engaging with Millennials and Gen Z in their meme culture, actually doing so would grant brands the ability to relate and resonate with a traditionally averse audience. For brands that are succeeding with memes,

How a Murderous Bird Helped Kids Learn Spanish

From December 2018 to March 2019, a terrifying and dangerous bird threatened the livelihoods of unsuspecting multilingual wannabes. Okay, not really. However, an image on Tumblr of a screenshot from language learning app Duolingo gave birth to one of the best brand memes to ever grace the internet.

The image posted was of a notification from Duolingo that said "Oops, that's not correct. Run for your life” – an obvious joke from the team at Duolingo. However, the internet wasn’t done with the endless possibilities this simple screenshot held.

Before long, social media was full of memes that made Duo (Duolingo’s child friendly, and seemingly innocent, mascot) out to be a menacing monster.

Meme after meme was posted online and ‘Evil Duolingo Bird’ was soon one of the top trending topics of social media. This trend saw Duolingo’s social media presence skyrocket completely.

Between the 16th March and 16th April 2019, posts with the hashtags #duolingo and #duolingomeme saw their online reach increase from 6000 to 20,000,000; their social media likes go from 500 to nearly 2,000,000; and their social media comments rise from 100 to 128,000.

For Duolingo it was free publicity, even though their mascot was being portrayed as a violent and threatening linguistic teacher. However, while most brands tend not to engage with social media trends and internet memes, Duolingo weren’t prepared to let this opportunity go to waste and instead, they wanted to get on board with it.

In March, the official Twitter account of Duolingo tweeted an ominous post which included an image of Duo’s silhouette waiting creepily at a door which was titled only “coming soon”.

Two days later, for April Fools’, Duolingo released a satirical advert promoting their new feature Duolingo Push, where Duo will appear wherever you are, prompting you to complete your daily lesson.

Clearly playing into the trend, the internet absolutely loved it, the video has so far received over 4 million YouTube views and has inspired even more memes from it (this is a personal favourite of mine).

But the results of meme campaigns aren’t limited to mere social media engagement, they also offer businesses a huge new consumer base to utilise.

Between December 2018 and 2019, Duolingo’s value more than doubled from $700 million to $1.5 billion – considering their base service is free this is an incredible accomplishment.

Duolingo is a fantastic example that shows the power something as simple as a meme can have on your business’ growth. The company could have spent years, and millions, on trying to grow through traditional marketing methods only to result in little to no success.

Instead, they opted to take part in the fun. They never took themselves seriously and were willing to join in on the memes.

Consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z love to see this in brands – it gives them a sense of personality that they don’t see in companies that take themselves too seriously.

A brand that is able to engage and relate with their audience is sure to see results. It doesn’t even matter what you’re selling, younger generations will engage with brands that have a personality they like and resonate with.

How To Start Marketing With Memes

Meme marketing might seem daunting, but in reality, the process is essentially the same as any other marketing strategy. Like every marketing campaign you’ve ever run, the first (and most important) thing you have to do is research the market.

Brands that fail to market successfully with memes do so because they have no clue what memes Millennials and Gen Z are actually engaging with. Or, if they do, they don’t understand the concept of the meme itself and use it incorrectly and embarrass themselves.

First, if you can, get insights from Millennial or Gen Z colleagues and have them help create content and a marketing strategy that fully utilises memes . If your business lacks younger team members who are active in internet culture, then why?, but also use sites like Know Your Meme (the Wikipedia of memes) to understand the relevance and cultural meaning behind each meme.

If you don’t know or understand the memes people are engaging with positively online, then you will never be able to use them in your marketing efforts.

Secondly, from the popular memes you’ve researched, consider ways in which you can incorporate your brand’s product or service into them. This can be as original as you like, depending on the format of the meme.

American beef jerky brand Slim Jim shows how easy it really is. Their Instagram account is full of current and popular memes that are cleverly related to their brand or product without pushing a traditional marketing ad.

They show an incredibly strong understanding of meme culture which resonates with younger audiences. It’s no surprise that they’ve been able to amass over one million Instagram followers through their use of memes.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to take yourself less seriously. Big brands often struggle to loosen their tightly buttoned collar when it comes to how they portray themselves online.

They want to be seen as the sophisticated and professional business that they are. That may have appealed to previous generations, but it’s not going to fly with today’s internet consumer base.

Brands that take themselves less seriously are far more likely to attract meme-loving consumers who enjoy the breath of fresh air from brands with a sense of humour.

This is likely a key reason why the relaxed, less serious approach of startups makes them incredibly popular with younger audiences.

Take Duolingo, they embraced the memes around their company’s menacing mascot and even created a satirical marketing campaign based on it.

Instead of turning their nose up at the internet community and paying no attention to the hilarious memes being shared online, they got involved and saw incredible benefits from doing so.

Embrace the Memes

Memes are more than a silly post online. They’re a communicatory tool that is second language to the Millennials and Generation Z who have been raised on the internet and social media.

Brands have notoriously struggled to adapt and appeal to these audiences online. Traditionally, brands were just brands, there was little to relationship between them and their audience.

However, through the use of memes as well as an appreciation and understanding of internet and youth culture, brands are able to create new identities and personalities online that show audiences who they really are.

Many brands get memes wrong, painfully so. But the ones that get it right don’t push it on consumers. The meme success of Duolingo would never have worked if the company themselves pushed the online trend; it would seem forced.

Memes, like any cultural trend, have to come naturally and from the people who experience and live in that online world.

This isn’t to say you need your own brand meme to succeed with memes in general. Plenty brands on TikTok are beginning to utilise the platform to mimic trends other users are posting to get exposure on the app.

These brands aren’t spending their entire budget on producing original content, they are simply able to establish a presence online that engages with consumers through a shared love of memes and trends (and they're killing it!).

So, if you’re a brand, don’t be afraid to embrace memes and internet culture. What good has the ‘Mr Serious’ routine ever got you with today’s digital audience. Consumers demand authenticity and relatability. And, after all, memes are the way to their hearts.

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