Using Memes to Reach New Audiences
Bad Luck Brian has had a rough go. The person behind the picture is Kyle Craven and in 2012 Craven became an Internet sensation after a friend posted a high school yearbook photo on Reddit. Kyle became a popular image macro to be shared on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Immediately, his image was seen on t-shirts, stuffed animals and novelty items sold by Walmart and Hot Topic. Volkswagen and other companies used the picture in their marketing campaigns. Bad Luck Brian has lost its virality but will occasionally come back out of obscurity for a short time.
The word meme was first coined by Richard Dawkins, a renowned biologist, ethologist, and author. Dawkins argued memes were a way for cultures to evolve by spreading concepts from person to person as ideas, symbols, or practices. Sounds like marketing doesn’t it? Spreading an idea (product or service) around person to person (customers) by way of symbols (advertisements)? Have humans been marketing to themselves since the beginning?
Using memes for marketing sounds genius. A meme, by definition, is the spreading of an idea. In this case, it’s spreading an idea to sell something. But is that it? Do you just pick a macro image, put your custom text on it, and Tweet out to followers? No. You may alienate more people than you attract. If you’re going to use memes to market, then there are some things you need to know.
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Memes for Marketing
I wrote about going viral a few days ago and memes have a high potential of going viral. They are short, easily shared, visual, often comical, and elicit a reaction. If you’re going to use a meme to market, then you need to know your meme inside and out. Know its history, how it’s used, the context, whether it’s still used, and if another company has used it and how the public reacted to that company’s use of the particular meme. Just because a competitor in your industry used Success Kid successfully does not mean you can copy their model for use with Joseph Ducreux to get the same numbers.
Know your meme and know your audience. Memes have a very, very short lifespan; hence, the reason there are so many of them. Memes are generally used by younger age groups and often rely on a negative, degrading context – not always but usually. The negativity may not be a bad thing if you can spin it in the right context. Just know who you are, who you are trying to reach, and make sure your message gets to them. Memes may be something to consider if you make designer sneakers for grade school kids but not if you run a funeral home.
Biggest Meme Mistake
The biggest mistake in using a meme would be not following up on the awareness created by the post. Memes have a huge potential to create awareness and attention, but what are you doing with the conversations and shares? If someone likes the meme you put up on your company’s Instagram page, do you follow up with them, thanking them for liking it, asking what they thought about it, and if they have any ideas for the next post? What if you were following a brand and they responded to you by asking for their next big idea? You would be pumped. The encounter would be remarkable. Make sure your appropriate use of memes creates awareness and opportunity and that you follow up with engagement. That engagement is key and the point of using memes to market.
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