Why Agencies and Brands Shouldn’t Use Popular Internet Memes
A lot of big brands with large social media presences have recently started following the trend (or falling into the trap) of posting popular memes from Twitter or Tumblr on their pages. They do this in the hopes of gaining favor with the typically millennial audiences that like to communicate with each other through memes.
For those who may not be able to pinpoint exactly what a meme is, let me give you a definition and an example. A meme is an image that goes “viral” when it’s shared all over the internet in different variations. It’s essentially an inside joke that everyone can participate in. Most recently the image that has become viral is a screen cap from the 2017 Oscar ceremony in which they had to hold up a piece of paper to confirm that Moonlight was the real Best Picture winner.
Because of the controversy surrounding the way Moonlight was announced the true Best Picture winner (after they incorrectly announced La La Land as the winner), this image became easily recognizable. It also happens to be very easily edited to fit whatever joke you want to tell.
Almost as soon as I saw the Moonlight mixup, I knew it was going to become the next big meme. Sure enough, less than an hour later I started seeing different versions of the meme appear online. Turns out, everyone else online knew, too:
If a brand decided to use this meme in a timely fashion, such as the night of the Oscars (or at most the next day), that would be one thing. If their version of the meme was something more than just their own brand name on the piece of paper, their post could be funny, timely, and relevant. However, most big brands won’t pick up on this meme until it’s been fully circulated for weeks, maybe even months, and therefore absolutely beaten to death. Then they’ll inevitably just lazily slap their name on it and call it a done deal.
Speaking as a millennial with an active Twitter and Tumblr, I can say that doing this will only have the opposite of the desired effect. Millennials can spot a capitalist scheme from a mile away, and they know when your heart isn’t really in the joke.
Here is a short list of the few things you need to remember to stay internet-savvy with your audience:
- Know your audience. Are they the type of people that would be in tune with memes? Do they think they’re funny?
- Check http://knowyourmeme.com/ to understand the origin of the meme and the path it’s taken. Pepe the frog used to just be a harmless cartoon frog until it was adopted by the alt-right movement to represent white supremacy. If your brand were to share a meme with Pepe on it, even if the words are harmless, it could still be taken as an endorsement of the white supremacy movement.
- How outdated is it? Popular memes change every day. By the time this is published, the 2017 Oscar meme will have been replaced ten times over. If the meme is older than a week, don’t bother with it.
- Do your research. If you’re going to post a meme, make it unlike any version you’ve already seen.
- Don’t be lazy – create original content. Posting a meme on your social media account doesn’t automatically make you funny. Hire people that are actually funny to write for your account and you could be the source of the next big meme.
Here’s a good example of a brand that is staying on top of internet culture and using it to their advantage. Wendy’s Twitter account has been very active about responding to the people that tweet to them and it has gotten them a lot of coverage online. Here are just a few recent tweets they’ve said that have made me laugh:
They even know how to properly use emojis!
There is a way to engage with your audience using social media successfully, but it takes a lot of work. Focus on your brand, your audience, and the right way to market to them. Just don’t use memes.