I want to talk about memes. In fact, I’ve wanted to talk about them for some time but haven’t been sure how to pronounce the word. After much research and debate, I can conclusively say it is pronounced “MEEM”, often prefaced by the word ‘internet’ because that’s where they usually live.
Now that we all know how it is pronounced, what the bloody hell is a 'meme'? Well, its definition states that it’s “…an element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another”. You might also call it a glorified caption competition entry, usually consisting of a picture with some text that’s intended to evoke hilarity. Most often expressed through the eloquence of LOL and LMFAO. Below is an example for those over 40.
Memes are generally dismissed as idiotic garbage. They're often seen as digital masturbation for the self-indulgent youth of today, but I strongly disagree. I’ve watched with much interest over the past 18 months as I’ve seen memes go from existing solely in a very niche online sub-culture to being plastered all over my Facebook newsfeed by almost everyone I know. I’m being sent dozens of memes a day via email and SMS, I have three different apps on my phone dedicated to them and now find it physically impossible to do a number two without browsing through a few.
Is this a poor reflection on me as a person? Probably, but more importantly it shows the meteoric rise of something as dismissible as memes within today's culture. Are they simple? Yes. Silly? Often. But memes are not to be underestimated.
There are two things inherent in memes that can make them a very powerful tool in the world of communications: shareability and universal truths. As with all things, there are some that have neither of these qualities and fall short, but let’s ignore those and focus on the good ones.
A great meme centres around something that we can all relate to, but don’t often talk about. Something you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of or brought up yourself, but you definitely agree with it when you hear it. This universal truth is closely comparable to an insight for any ad campaign. You look at a group of people, uncover a common truth, (made more powerful if it’s new and previously unheard) and you build your story around it.
While this is powerful in itself, memes multiply this power by combining it with another intrinsic quality: shareability. Memes are literally made to be shared. Their very existence relies on people passing them on and unlike most other content, consumers are encouraged to build, remix and reinvent a meme all with the focus of then sharing their creation again.
You can see how this combination of sharing a message, wrapped up in an entertaining and universal truth can be quite appealing to a brand or client. Not only that, but it’s also cheap as chips. Of course it has to be done right. As with all things born from the internet, get it right and you will be beloved, get it wrong and you are at the mercy of keyboard trolls internationally.
But that’s what I love about them. For a brand to be involved they must already have some sort of personal or cultural relevance to the reader, once they have cracked that the meme world is their oyster! We are starting to see some progressive brands such as Sharpie and Guinness already dip their toe in the water and I expect to see many more in the near future. Watch this space.