The language of the Internet is constantly changing based on what’s trendy, who’s in the spotlight, and what the latest hot TV shows are. This ceaseless fluctuation can make it difficult for your marketing team to stay abreast of Internet culture, but this is a crucial skill when it comes to marketing online.
If you struggle to connect to an online audience in today’s increasingly digital world, take some time to learn about one of the most ubiquitous methods of online communication: the meme.
Memes change even faster than other styles of online communication, and if you want to use them to market your business, you need to know how to stay on top of these changes — or at least how to stay in the loop as the language continues to shift.
The Millennial generation (1981–1996) is the first to have grown up using the Internet from a young age, and with this experience comes a unique and intuitive knowledge of how to communicate online. And because the Millennial generation has officially surpassed the Baby Boomers as the largest demographic in the country, businesses and advertisers need to start shifting their focus to this bloc of consumers.
Your business has a responsibility to learn and use the language of online content if you want to attract young adults such as Millennials and Generation Z — no easy feat when you consider how quickly online communication can change.
But with the right resources, you can learn how memes work and how to make them work for you.
What Are Memes?
According to KnowYourMeme.com, the word meme was coined by biologist Richard Dawkins in the 1970s as a way to describe “self-replicating cultural information.” Trends and ideas grow and evolve the same way that genes do, and this is clear to see in the rapid evolution of online content.
Today’s Internet memes are images — usually photos or screenshots — with corresponding text. Each image has a certain context in which it is used, and some memes are more adaptable than others. Memes are often jokes but can also be serious or political in nature, and because each image has an established context, you can easily and quickly get a message across to readers or viewers.
For example, the Success Kid, a baby with a fistful of sand, is used to convey happiness at accomplishing something. Because this image has been used in this context for nearly 10 years, readers know what kind of meaning to attach to the text displayed:
On the other hand, newer images such as the Distracted Boyfriend and text-based memes such as the “Me… Also Me…” format are newer and are evolving much more quickly, meaning that their interpretations may be more varied:
Below, we’ll go over some more examples of memes and how a business might use them.
How Do You Use Memes?
In order to successfully integrate memes into your marketing plan, you need to know how to use them correctly. Because each image has a corresponding context or connotation, you need to use the proper image to get your point across.
For example, you wouldn’t want to use this meme to persuade customers to choose your company:
This Two Buttons meme tells readers that the choice between these two options is too hard to make — not exactly the message you want to send potential customers!
Instead, choose something like the Distracted Boyfriend:
This meme quickly shows your audience that your business is a great option and that smart consumers will choose you — and because memes are understood to be comedic or tongue-in-cheek, the silly tone of a meme like this shows that your business is relatable and has a sense of humor.
Some memes are based on pop culture touchstones, like this common format based on HBO’s Game of Thrones:
Pop culture memes are built on an understanding of the source material. In this case, “winter is coming” is a common phrase from the TV series and is used to convey the dread and power of an oncoming catastrophe. A meme like this tells readers that they need to be prepared for a situation and, when shared by your business, shows that you will be able to help them prepare.
Memes aren’t always photos with captions, either. Like the “Me… Also Me…” image referenced earlier in this blog, memes can sometimes spring from text posts on social media. A post like the one above would be useful for a company such as a financial planner or bank that offers savings accounts.
How to Get Started
The constant shift of online language can be intimidating, but if you have some time to browse, context clues make it easy to learn. Websites such as imgflip have easy-to-use meme generators, and KnowYourMeme.com is always there to keep you informed on the latest interpretations of the most popular memes and social media trends.
Things to Remember
Use white text with a black outline; it can be read over any color in any image you choose.
Make sure to use memes that you understand the context for so that you send the right message to your customers.
Remember that memes are goofy — don’t be afraid to have fun with it! Potential customers want to be able to relate to your company, and online marketing with memes is one of the best ways to engage with your audience.