With the growing popularity of aggregate sites, such as Reddit and Voat, content that used to be exclusive to online communities (forums, bulletin boards, etc.) has started to circulate within the casual web user’s browsing experience. While this may lead said communities to be slightly bitter, it allows a casual web user access to relatable content, especially ‘memes’.
- What are memes?
- Why are memes popular?
- Can I use memes in marketing?
I’ll tackle all these questions and more after the jump!
What is a ‘meme’:
Before we can dive in too far, it’s best to know the history of memes and internet memes. In 1976, Richard Dawkins coined the term meme (a play on the term gene and mime) in his book The Selfish Gene. He states in Chapter 11:
We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. `Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like `gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to `memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with `cream’.
He continues by describing the mechanism of a meme:
Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. As my colleague N.K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter: `… memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.
So basically, to Dawkins, a meme is a thought gene or virus that spreads through ideas and becomes ingrained in our culture. This leads us to the “Internet Meme”. An internet meme follows this same basic principle, though they are deeply rooted in internet culture. They are, as Dawkins puts in this bizarre lecture from 2013, a “hijacking of the mind”. The major difference between the traditional idea of a meme and the internet meme is that the internet meme is track-able to its roots, where as a cultural meme can be difficult if not impossible to find the root idea in history.
Now that we’ve explored the somewhat confusing history of the word, let’s move forward a bit and talk about…
The popularity of Internet Memes.
I’m not an internet archeologist, though I’d like to think that I could be considered an internet archaeology enthusiast. My foray into internet culture began in the mid-90’s and my dad happened to be one of those “internet pioneers” posting on BBS back when you needed to rev up your penguin and plug it into a whirring caterpillar to access the early form of the internet. From my perspective, I think we can attribute the way that we see internet memes spread today, similarly to (and to have its roots in) those old “FWD: SHARE THIS TO FIND YOUR TRUE LOVE;” chain letter emails that your grandmother may still send, with pictures of Garfield hating Mondays. Over the past 12 years, we’ve seen a huge change in how internet content is shared. The popularity of the internet meme hits on this: An idea often accompanied by an image that on a base level, is relatable to a large audience, regardless of demographics. Cats may be the root of all internet memes.
It would take an extraordinarily long time to go through the history of every popular internet meme. And doing so probably isn’t relevant to this article. Their origins are interesting, however. Most early popular internet memes started from obscure forums, image boards, or BBS. As social media began to grow, so did the spread of these memes. Facebook, Twitter, Myspace etc., helped propagate the spread of these memes and content aggregates like Digg and Reddit helped foster the sharing. Internet memes are relatable ideas and often times these base ideas can lead to whole offshoots of similar memes. For example: Caturday, first seen in 2006, most likely is the catalyst (no pun intended) for Longcat, Ceiling Cat, Happy Cat, Serious Cat, Grumpy Cat, and the list goes on (though Longcat may have been the birth place for Caturday).
OKAY I DON’T CARE ABOUT ALL THIS HISTORY STUFF – WHY ARE THESE MEMES POPULAR?
Gotcha, Memes are popular because they are the fastest way to share a relatable concept or a laugh, online. That’s it. It’s simple. Memes imply what they say in their imagery. Anyone can make and share and expand upon a preexisting internet meme. They are familiar and comfortable.
And here comes the part that you’ve been waiting for.
Can I use memes in marketing?
Successful marketing requires an understanding of your audience. Let’s first make a list of DON’Ts when considering meme use in your marketing efforts.
- DON’T post memes without understanding how a particular meme is relevant to your audience.
- DON’T rely on memes as your primary share of internet marketing.
- DON’T try to make up your own memes.
Let’s expand on these a bit by listing do’s:
- DO research on the memes you are planning on using, make it relatable to your audience.
- DO use relatable memes in comment replies. Try to focus on pertinent content for your primary post, but do not be afraid to interact with your community using memes. See example of Dark Souls community manager below.
- DO use existing memes. Creating your own memes can alienate your audience. It can.
This is an example of a community manager for a video game posting. Notice the posts begin with a promotional item or something “serious”, but because he knows his audience, he builds brand equity by using “appropriate memes”. (Note: You don’t have to understand the meme play, to understand how it’s effective towards his audience, see likes.)
“Whoever is running the Dark Souls fb page has been killing it”.
“Crashing a ‘meme’s’ market”
Overuse of anything devalues the impact and effectiveness of that thing. This is no different for the usage of memes. Memes are often only popular for a limited window. Do your research when deciding what to post and whether or not it is relatable to your audience. The fastest way to turn away the internet-savvy is to flood them with unrelated image macros.
I hope this has given you, dear reader, a brief overview and introduction to memes and marketing. This is clearly an expansive topic and I haven’t even started to scratch the surface regarding definitions and other uses for memes. We’ll continue on this topic in my next blog where I’ll be exploring the different categories of memes and their uses.
Until next time, enjoy this rare holographic marketing meme.