Looking back 10 years ago, there were only a handful of new memes. They were simple and understood mostly by people who spent too much time online. But in the course of a decade, meme’s have become much more complex than Foul Bachelor Frog, Socially Awkward Penguin and Good Guy Greg. In fact, new memes come and go so quickly these days that some of Anvil’s newest hires probably don’t know who Lazy College Senior Is.
(Before moving on, I’d like to point out that my college roommate was responsible for the creation of this meme in 2011 and he just graduated from medical school last week. WAY TO GO, DUDE!)
Memes have had a recent surge in pop-culture in part to scrolling social apps like Twitter and Instagram. From reaction gifs to screenshots and classic lines from Spongebob Squarepants, The Princess Bride and The Avengers, you don’t have to look far to find a meme-based Instagram profile with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of followers. But should your brand be using memes in its social media efforts? Well, that depends.
The first questions you should ask yourself are “What is my brand identity? What is my industry and who is my audience?” These questions are probably the import and and simple rules of branded social media. If you’re a divorce lawyer, you probably don’t want to utilize memes in your marketing. But if your brand’s image and industry are playful and light-hearted, I would say go for it. But still, tread lightly.
During a panel discussion about memes in digital marketing at this year’s SXSW, GIPHY Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel offered great advice to those looking to utilize memes and internet humor – “What we don’t want is brands who just think that they’re part of our tribe when they’re really not. I see a huge opportunity for brands right now…there’s a blurry line between what a brand is and what a person is; brands are becoming more like people and people are becoming more like brands…[don’t] treat every interaction like a transaction. You actually have to have an identity outside of trying to sell shit.”
I should also call out here, that posting memes probably isn’t going to result in sales of a product (unless you’re Nickelodeon). In fact, mixing internet humor and sales is going to come off like your dad trying to talk about the newest Travis Scott feature. When done right though, internet humor could help build brand affinity and in the long-run result in future sales.
Interestingly memes and internet humor are starting to play a role in the 2020 election. Democratic hopeful Andrew Yang has reached the threshold of at least 65,000 individual donors needed to participate in the Democratic debates this summer. Still unknown by many, he made an affinity for himself by building a relatable persona through social media and is a top-candidate choice for America’s newest voting group – Gen Z.
In short, internet humor and memes should be part of a brand’s authenticity – which is one of the most important things to consumers in 2019. Nothing you post on social should be forced. Nothing should be off-brand. If your brand is plugged into pop-culture and what’s cool with the “youths,” go for it. But only if it feels natural and only if it’s timely. The last thing you want to do is send out a meme that was the flavor of the week… last month.