Marketing with Memes
10 Do’s & Don’ts
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t enjoyed at least one meme. Your best friend sends them to you at 3 AM, and they fill your social feeds. Your mom tries to show you one on her phone every time you visit. They’ve almost become a universal constant wherever people have access to the internet.
Memes work because they’re a sort of universal “in joke.” A good meme takes a set of understood references within a specific audience and composes those references in such a way that elicits a humorous reaction. The more relevant a meme is to its target audience, the more it gets engaged with, shared, and saved. That sharing increases the “in-joke” nature of the meme and its potential to be shared even further. Think of memes as an expanding tree diagram of relevance that only stops expanding when the relevance of their references does.
You want to capitalize on that reach, right? Content that is easy to create, only gets better the more it’s shared and can appeal to a massive audience sounds ideal. It’s like the perfect vessel to carry your ideas to the farthest reaches of your target audience. You’re not alone in that thought. Thousands of businesses are using memes in marketing. More than 50% of 15 – 35-year-olds send memes to their peers weekly, and top brands like Gucci, Seamless, and BarkBox have been jumping on this trend for years.
So, if you’re ready to start memeing in the name of your business, what do you aim for? And what do you avoid?
1. sTAY CURRENT
Memes are only funny as long as they are relevant. Because this type of content is so easy to create, its trends change incredibly quickly. If you’re batching content on a strict schedule, you might find that your memes don’t get engagement because they lack immediacy. Try to keep tuned in to social platforms that matter to your target audience. If you see a new meme format that’s trending everywhere, try to get ahead of it by adding your meme to the trend. For example, the AriZona Beverage Company was aware of the incredibly packed photos of Lollapalooza 2021. They created a meme that made light of those images AND showed off the benefits of their product a day later:
2. Make fun of yourself
Part of facilitating an “in-joke” is being willing to let yourself become the butt of said joke. There’s no humor in making fun of other people and not your brand. Pointing out the silliness inherent in what you’re doing will allow your audience to identify with you on a personal level and build loyalty with your message. When creating memes, don’t be scared to get a little “meta” about your business because the people will laugh with you. Nobody does this better than Slim Jim!
3. Reference pop culture
Fictional characters and celebrities present us with common points of reference that we can build humor around. To explain what we mean, imagine the person writing this blog made a meme about how irritating their cousin Gary is. Everyone in the family, and probably Gary’s girlfriend, will find it hilarious. But you will probably see a picture of a stranger and immediately feel confused or lose interest. If that picture of Gary were, say, replaced with a picture of Spongebob Squarepants, you’d probably find it funny. This is because characters and celebrities often represent an agreed-upon set of traits to everyone aware of them. Keep the appeal of your memes as broad as possible by using widely recognized characters to convey your message. VeryUK does this perfectly with this Friends meme. We all know Monica can get easily flustered, and we can all identify with that during a heatwave!
4. Get a little weird now and then
To say there’s a difference between the humor of the ’90s and the humor we see now is an understatement. Millennials and Gen Z’s have embraced absurdity in their humor. These days, jokes aren’t so much about a witty punchline. They’re about layered references, fleeting aesthetic trends, and seeing just how much bizarre imagery you can pack into one frame. The trick to getting this right lies in being self-aware that it’s weird. A purposefully created strange image and an unintentionally strange image are easy to tell apart, so aim for the former. It’s easy to mess up this type of post, so make sure you have a Gen Z on hand if you’re going to attempt an absurd meme. Here are Bugles getting it right. We don’t know what’s going on, but we’re into it.
5. Know your audience
More important than all of the tips we’ve given you so far is knowing your audience. When you know your target demographic, you will be much more likely to create successful memes for their specific sense of humor. If you own a shoe brand for older ladies, for example, and you decide to post a meme about video games because it’s a trending format, you’re probably not going to find success. An absurd meme like the one in step four likely wouldn’t appeal to those who followed a teaching supplies page. You can follow all the guides in the world, but you know your brand best and will make the decisions that represent it most accurately.
A great example of this is the use of memes by Golf Safety, a safety maintenance consultancy in the USA. They know their demographic is golf course superintendents, so they make memes that only golf course superintendents would love. You probably didn’t like this meme, but it went down a treat with the Golf Safety crowd!
(We have decided not to include examples in this section. Firstly, everyone starts their meme game somewhere, and it would be unkind to single people out. Secondly, because unsuccessful memes don’t usually gain match traction, so we probably haven’t seen them.)
1. Don’t be unkind to real people
The general rule of thumb when it comes to making fun of people with memes is that the butt of the joke needs to be yourself or someone that doesn’t exist. For example, making a joke about Joffrey from Game of Thrones being THE worst is ok. Making fun of the person who owns the brand in direct competition with yours is not ok. Before you post a meme, ask yourself if there’s a possibility of hurting someone’s feelings. Suppose the answer is yes, bin the content. You can always find laughter without reaching for offensiveness, despite what some stand-up comics may want you to think!
2. Don’t be discouraged if all of your memes don’t hit the mark
It is impossible to pinpoint precisely what makes people laugh. There is, unfortunately, no scientific formula for comedic appeal, so the process of marketing with memes is often going to be based on trial and error. Sometimes, we think the memes we produce are side-splitting. Our clients will agree, and everyone will wait excitedly for the results we get from that content. And then, the meme will underperform. Sometimes so badly that we need to archive the posts! This doesn’t mean that we’re bad at memes. This means we need to try a different approach. Sometimes, backtracking and trying another way to make a joke about the same topic will yield unexpectedly fantastic results. We’re not telling you to keep repeating the same joke and hoping that it will stick. We just think you should keep trying with memes until you hit your groove. And if you miss once in a while, don’t worry! It’s not that serious.
3. Don’t steal jokes
This may sound counter-intuitive because the very nature of most memes is to create slight variations on a trend. But a carbon copy of a meme lifted from somebody else’s page and reposted as your content is a shifty move, no matter how relevant it is to your brand. If you want to use a meme, ask the original poster and give them credit in your caption. If you’re going to riff on the trend, find the meme template and write your own altered text. If you take jokes and pretend they are your own and you get found out, the authenticity that your followers associate with your brand voice will start to diminish rapidly. It’s incredibly embarrassing when people call you out for stealing a joke in the comments. And trust us, it WILL happen every time. It’s like an unspoken law of the internet.
4. Don’t worry about your meme content being aesthetically brand-perfect
If you’re genuinely excited about your brand identity, this may be a tough tip for you to follow. We know your brand colors and fonts are precious to you, and you want to preserve the visual integrity of your feed, but that may limit the performance of your memes. For memes to work effectively, they need to appear at first glance as native content. This means they need to look like content generated by individual platform users rather than by a brand. When individuals make a meme, they’re not aiming for brand consistency. They just want to make people laugh. They’ll probably use default fonts and not worry too much about image resolution. Keep an eye on meme accounts to get the hang of that visual shorthand and use it in creating your meme content.
5. Don’t clap back in the comments!
When you’re attached to the content you’ve created, it can be challenging to ignore negative comments. Because memes are so engaging by nature, you’re more likely to get responses on meme content. And with more responses come more trolls. Stand by what you’ve made, ignore the comments that are just trying to belittle you, and focus on the people who love what you’ve done. Engaging with commenters who just want to spite you will egg them on. As is the case with most negative interactions on the internet, indifference (and the block button) is your greatest weapon.
Memes are a fun, easy way to engage with your followers. They’re quick to create and fun to share, and they’re worth trying out as one of your content pillars. We know it can feel a little bit daunting learning how to make memes, so we’ve created a set of meme templates that will help explain exactly how to use memes and hopefully provide you with some chuckle-worthy content along the way. Download them here to get started.
If you’re looking for more one-on-one guidance or want to find out more about what we do, feel free to book a consultation call with us. You can also check out these memes we’ve made for AriZona for some inspiration.