Memes may be great for laughs but they can also be great for marketing, too.
A meme is “a unit of cultural information … that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action…”, according to the Free Dictionary by Farlex.
As it applies today, memes typically come in the form of videos or images shared on social media. Organizations can either use existing memes in their marketing or become a meme themselves, which can be dangerous because they can lose control of the message.
The administrator of a well-known meme account, @cbumemedudes, said well-done meme marketing is less annoying than regular advertising.
“I think (using memes) is creative, and a good ad can be enjoyable but a lot of ads don’t look to be that. They are just annoying,” the admin said.
Chad Gaines, junior accounting major, said he thinks memes can make better advertisements than traditional methods of advertising.
“They are really entertaining and get your attention better than a boring advertisement,” Gaines said.
Dr. Natalie Winter, professor of marketing and management, says memes have become popular in marketing as more people with purchasing power become familiar with the intricate world of memes.
“It has definitely gained popularity in the last few years thanks to the rise of social media. As you have more decision- makers in terms of purchasing, such as moms being on social media, the use of memes is going to increase,” Winter said.
The Netflix original “Birdbox” (2018) recently gained publicity from successful meme marketing. Images from the film were used as memes and brought a great deal of awareness to the film. It became the most-watched film in Netflix history despite using less expensive promotions than Netflix’s previous most watched film, “Bright” (2017). Meme promotions likely contributed to “Birdbox” becoming the most-streamed film.
Memes can have negative effects, however. When United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from one of its flights in 2017, it became a public relations nightmare. The organization was heavily memed for its treatment of the passenger.
This can be detrimental because a meme conveys an oversimplified message. If people see a meme repeatedly bad-mouthing an organization, the message will likely affect their perception of the organization. Winter says it is important to keep brand-image positive in memes.
“They do not want a negative response to become the story, so they have to think through that strategically while staying true to the brand-image. They also want to leverage the opportunity and not have that tide turn on them because their response seems humorless or out of touch,” Winter said.
Memes and social media are here to stay, and as long as they are here, marketers will seek to maximize their potential and will be on the lookout for when their organization becomes the next viral meme.