From Meme to Marketing: The Power of Viral Meaning-Creation

 

memes-what-you-think-it-memes-princess-bride

This morning whilst enjoying my leftover steak dinner turned steak omelet (waste not want not) I was also going through the Sunday paper coupons (as is a typical suburban Sunday morning activity – so I have observed).

Whilst perusing the pages of discounts for new, necessary hair care products and butter substitutes I came across this full page ad / coupon combo that made my consumer anthropologist nerve center tingle:

BlHWYafIYAAgUfh

This is just one of a long list of once random internet memes that have been adapted and adopted by brads for their marketing draw.  This is a practice aptly labeled “memejacking”.    It has been going on since internet memes started becoming “a thing”, as detailed in this 2012 article on the top 10 internet memes masquerading as marketing .  But what struck me was how this meme had moved from the “internets” to a Sunday paper coupon.  Proving memes are now no longer relegated to the hipster “inside joke” set but now have as much mass appeal as vanilla ice cream.  But don’t let the idea lead you to believe memes have lost their luster.   Quite the contrary.  Memes are all about transmission of meaning and the internet has become the ideal mode for spreading them.

This about.com article defining internet memes and explaining the origin of the term  does a great job of putting the evolution of internet memes in context. For example:

“The “meme” word was first introduced by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in 1976. “Meme” comes from the Greek word “mimema” (meaning “something imitated”, American Heritage Dictionary). Dawkins described memes as a being a form of cultural propagation, a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other. Not unlike the way that DNA and life will spread from location to location, a meme idea will also travel from mind to mind.”

That same article points to some other great examples of internet memes from our recent history, like the classic “rickrolling” phenomenon that began in 2007, featured in this UK news story from “around then”

And who among us with their short-term memory still intact can forget

i-can-has-cheezburger

which rapidly evolved to own its own funny-animal-pictures-with-anthropomorphic-phrasing focused media property, icanhascheezburger.com . I daresay our dearly beloved Grumpy Cat should be grateful to his trailblazing predecessors in ridiculousness.

So, why are these internet memes a marketer’s dream? Obvious to most who are internet savvy or not living under a rock with no electricity, but laid out nicely in a a recent article on memejacking: why it works so well and how to do it :

They’re already established. Based on the previously mentioned definition, memes are not memes unless they’re already a popular, spreading theme throughout society. By using something that’s already popular and attaching a branded message, you’re leveraging the success of something that’s already gone viral without starting from the beginning. It’s easy street at its best.
They draw traffic. One of the most frustrating aspects of any marketing campaign is trying to drive traffic to a specific website. Memes do it for you. Regardless of their form, when they’re attached to a link, visitors are likely to check out the message behind the meme. They also attract likes and followers, increasing social network presences across the board.
We live in a culture that likes to share. Social media users of today are accustomed to going online and sharing the information they find. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or another network, each one is designed to help users engage one another through sharing. If you’re meme attracts attention, it’s likely to be shared unlike any other marketing form.
They’re practically designed for social media. Along with being easy to share, social media networks tend to prioritize images and videos. Users want to see information that’s easy to process and sends a message without a lot of thought. This is a basic tenant of memes.
They couldn’t be easier to create. For any marketer, content creation is a regular activity that requires intense effort and thought. There’s no way around it: marketing campaigns are driven by targeted content. Because memes are simple to create and easy to share, they could become a staple of any successful marketing initiative.

An anthropological colleague of mine, Grant McCracken also wrote a more intensive “field guide” for marketers to help them understand how to leverage memes.  He did a couple of years ago it in the form of  a book entitled Culturematic , which I found to be a fun dive into the topic of the memetic experiment.  Indeed that very book inspired this very blog as it’s own experiment.  My goal was to write a blog a day for a year and see what comes of it.  Suffice to say, I am glad i did it and that this Narcissistic Anthropologist now has a successful outlet for her sociocultural musings.

Whatever your POV on internet memes or marketing, you must acknowledge one thing – that internet memes are a powerful example of the power of human creativity and the immeasurable value that our digital connection to one another can have to communicate new ideas on a global scale.  It also proves the value of humor in mobilizing the masses.    I don’t know that i have an appropriately anthropological answer for what that means for the future of marketing-kind or mankind, for that matter. But I do believe that we have an opportunity to think about how memes can help us shift our frame and change our game.   This phenomenon tells me that getting people’s attention isn’t so complicated and doesn’t need to be [fraught with fear or anger to call people to action.

A point to ponder as you continue about your day, and seek to find meaning in the messages that will cross your path.

For the marketers out there, I encourage you to seek meaning in the meme.  There is undoubtedly something appropriate for your brand out there – and it likely comes from the heart and mind of one of your most coveted influencers.  It goes to show that sometimes you don’t need to dig too deep into the magic of marketing science to find gold.  Sometimes the most innovative communication is right on your computer screen during a Facebook break.

meme-marketers

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