Isn’t it crazy that one of the most successful ways to market online involves sharing funny images? What would Don Draper think!?
Actually, I think he might quite like the idea.
Ok, so maybe meme marketing is not all about funny images. There’s funny videos too!
Not to mention shocking images and videos, awe-inspiring images and videos and basically any visual content that viewers feel worthy of sharing.
And they do, by the billions!
For this reason memes are an important element of most modern day marketing campaigns. They are used prolifically by the biggest brands names such as Coca-Cola and Levis’, and even politicians seeking to drive debate and votes in Presidential election campaigns.
Though they might seem like silly, trivial content, memes are extremely powerful mechanisms for sending messages, driving opinion and building traffic!
Meme marketing, known as “memetic marketing” is just one component of Image Based Marketing, a trend that has become widely popular since the growth of social networking sites.
It’s appeal as a powerful marketing strategy comes down to the fact that memes are cheap, popular and spread rapidly. Simply put, messages go viral more easily with meme marketing.
So what is it about memes that gets people interested?
Memeticist and author of The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore, may have the answer. She explains, “Memes are essentially selfish pieces of information trying to use our brains to get themselves copied and passed on.”
While Blackmore sees memes (ideas or information) using our brains as a channel to propagate themselves, it’s is equally true that by sharing a meme, individuals are sharing their approval, disapproval, opinion or something about themselves, and are therefore using memes as a channel to express themselves and assert their own identity.
In other words, by sharing memes people are sharing little pieces of themselves. It’s essentially a selfish gesture to assert our identity, but one that works to the advantage of any enterprise, body, agency, brand or government that wants to have a stake in our identity.
So essentially memes appeal to our ego, which makes them a perfect marketing channel.
While the popularity of a meme cannot be predicted, there are some strategies that will boost the chances of a meme going viral.
Limor Shifman has identified six such features that characterize the most virally successful memes.
These are ordinary people, flawed masculinity, simplicity, humour, repetition, and whimsical content.
The most successful memes, will usually exhibit at least one of Shifman’s characteristics and are typically not planned. For example, the hugely popular Success Kid Meme, began as baby photo posted on Flickr by photographer Lainey Griner of her 11 month old son Sammy.
Now success kid is one of the most consistently used viral images on the Internet.
The reality is however, most memes do fail, or have a very short life span. The next big meme is always waiting to take center stage.
Popular Meme Tactics & Types
Let’s look at how to ‘engage’ audiences with memes by tapping into the identity/ego complex that gets a finger to click the share buttons before the brain has time to tell it to do so.
Method 1 – Like – Comment – Share
This is probably one of the easiest ways of encouraging an audience to interact with and share a meme. By placing a direct call to action in the meme photo along with a statement that is meaningful to the audience, the chances of the image being shared, commented on or liked, are hugely increased.
Dove have run meme campaigns like this very successfully. Dove’s audience chooses an option that reflects their preference. And their response is directly based on their desire to express who they are.
Method 2 – Ask A Question
It doesn’t get any more simple. Asking a question, particularly one that conjures up nostalgic, happy or positive thoughts or memories is always going to get an answer. The most successful marketing campaigns will provoke the right kind of emotion in the target audience. The viral effect happens when others want to share their unique emotion too.
(Remember, the ego!)
This simple tactic can be applied to any marketing campaign. The possibilities are endless. While Coca Cola use the “Summer days + Coca Cola are Like ….” image, it’s not difficult to think up dozens of others …
Mornings without coffee are like ….
Dieting without exercise is like ….
Movie nights + my best friend are like ….
Snowy mornings + woolly mittens are like ….
Method 3 – PiggyBack On Success
Sharing images on Facebook pages relevant to the audience you are trying to target is an easy way to piggyback on the meme machine. Take for example, the Facebook page Hug Pugs. The page has 271K users and regularly shares users content.
Just one share on a page like this can result in a huge amount of exposure for an image.
The image above was shared 751 times in less than a day and received over 8000 likes. The page is full of other similar user submitted images.
Method 4 – Brain Teasers
The final method covered here for engaging an audience is the age-old puzzle or brain teasers. These don’t have to be cryptic images. Word puzzles like the one used below, again by Dove or images that have something out of place that needs to be spotted.
This image above of a rubbish dump has a cat (middle left). Add a ‘share if you find the cat’ direction and images like this will go viral very quickly. (Ok, you can stop looking for the cat now …. )
In short, used intelligently and consistently as part of an online marketing strategies, meme’s can yield significant results for small businesses and brands. They’re cheap. Their potential reach is in the millions and they don’t feel like heavy handed marketing, which is why people love to share them. In fact, the very best memes used in online marketing will integrate themselves in their audience’s lifestyle, emotional landscape and sense of ego.