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Memorable Memes Maneuvering Marketing: Memes as Marketing Tactics

by:  Feb 4, 2013 1:10:00 PM

490423135 a7e8e7b8faIf you have ever seen a picture of Socially Awkward Penguin, the YouTube video of the Honey Badger, or the video of Nyan Cat, then you have seen a meme. There are thousands of memes out there on the internet, making people laugh and enabling them to share the jokes with their friends. But can memes be used for advertisement as a marketing tactic? The answer is yes.

What Are Memes?

A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture, carrying cultural ideas or symbols and communicating them through various forms. The Internet meme is an idea, behavior, or other concept, usually in the form of a picture or image, that spreads from person to person through the internet. Stemming from the Ancient Greek word μίμημα, or mimeme, the original translation means “to imitate.” Memes definitely imitate fads, especially on the internet. Sometimes, newer memes parody the original memes. While television and radio are a passive medium, people can communicate faster on the internet through the memes, sending and receiving them to and from virtually anywhere – they are the inside jokes of the internet!

How Memes Are Used Socially

Memes are usually used among internet culture for satire or to make a statement, reflecting the fads of what’s popular in the environment of the World Wide Web. An example of a meme designed for a brief moment of entertainment is a picture of a cat with the words “can i haz cheezburger?” The meme is simply a cat asking for a cheeseburger, but the meaning behind this particular meme is to convey the cuteness of the pictured cat through the multiple misspellings, as if the cat itself was asking for the cheeseburger. Memes can evolve and grow from a single picture of a cute cat to a variety of cute cats in different scenarios, such as a picture of a cat with its paws positioned together like a plea, with the words above it asking, “Can i plz haz cheezburger?” Internet memes can also be satirical or political, commenting on something about popular culture or current issues.

How Memes Are Used for Advertisement

Memes can be used anywhere on the internet: blogs, forums, emails, and social networking sites, only to name a few. Memes can now be found in advertisement! Clients use the help of licensing companies to gain access to the memes. Memes have been licensed to brands such as Nike, Nokia, even Jakks Pacific, the company which makes Hello Kitty merchandise. Other companies, such as Viral Spiral, employs researchers to search through the internet to find memes before they gain popularity, so the meme can reach its full potential in business as well as entertainment. VitaminWater released an advertisement last year that combined many memes, to not only relate to the public but to also catch the public’s eye with fads like planking or LOLCats. Negotiations, handling fees, and contracts are a part of the business, but the income is even more valuable. Different companies handle legal protections differently – some feel that legal protection should be slim to the creator of the meme, others are willing to defend certain images and sound under the copyright law.

Pros and Cons of Memes in Advertisement

While it is true that memes can be a valuable tool as a marketing tactic, you must look at every angle to make the decision that’s right for you or your company. The negative aspects will be listed first:

  • Using the wrong memes could be seen as unprofessional or tacky. Some memes use expletives in their phrasing. But even this has an upside: the Honey Badger video and meme on YouTube contains many expletives, but was cleaned up to be used for marketing purposes.
  • When used incorrectly, memes run the risk of not being understood if given to the wrong demographic. An eighty year old grandmother will most likely not know who Scumbag Steve is – she would more likely raise a purse to hit him rather than chuckle at the mention!
  • Overuse. If Angry Birds is seen in every commercial on every channel, you could have some Angry Customers on your hands.

The positives definitely outweigh the negatives in this case:

  • Memes utilize popularity. Memes resemble celebrities in their familiarity, as well as the fan base that enjoys them.
  • Memes are financially rewarding. When used properly, memes can earn anywhere on the spectrum from a few thousand to a six figure balance!

Mainstream media has accepted memes through the use of the memes in advertisements. It is good for companies to be in the know about the trendy fads: if the company utilizes the popularity in the trend, that bandwagon can be utilized to gain popularity for the company. If you find that the use of memes could work well in your company’s advertisement, then it is an advisable marketing tactic, bringing in business through relating to your customer’s interests.

Image courtesy of Noah Sussman. License terms.

Topics: Social Media, Advertising, Video, YouTube

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