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To meme or not to meme, that is the question.

Piggybacking; ingenious or ingeniously lazy?

Monday, 14 April 2014

Log onto virtually any social media platform and in amongst the barrage of banal updates from pseudo friends and narcissistic selfies, there is a never-ending smorgasbord of visual hilarity by way of the humble meme.

Memes capture a funny pop culture moment, idea, behaviour or relatable social situation. They spread rapidly through the channels of social media, reposted and shared by hundreds of users and brands.

From ‘shit people say’ to ‘condescending wonka’, these images spread faster than news of Taylor Swift’s latest breakup and subsequent new angsty single.

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Consumers can’t get enough of these virally-transmitted creative ideas and are obsessively sharing each and every one that they relate to personally, so it’s no surprise that advertisers have taken advantage of memes’ insane viral energy.

It all started around about here…

This fist-pumping child rose to internet fame when his mother posted the perfectly timed photo on Flickr and Getty Images back in 2007. Virgin Media were one of the first to jump on the meme-wagon and produced this little gem…

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Since then, brands have been busting to jam their logo on the latest image or video that is sweeping the net.

But is hijacking a popular meme for a brand’s own benefit, smart advertising or just plain lazy? Essentially brands are forgoing creating original ideas and instead recycling already viral pieces of creative. But on the other hand, memes comply with the golden rule of content marketing, which is of course to add-value to your audience.

It’s a tricky line to walk but it can yield a huge success if you do it right.

Here’s one example of a brand leveraging off a popular meme and, in our humble opinion, got it so right:

When a Justin Bieber fan uploaded a video tribute to YouTube, she couldn’t have guessed she would become as famous than JB himself. At the beginning of the video she paused and stared creepily into the camera, and in those glorious yet terrifyingly unsettling seconds, the Overly Attached Girlfriend Meme was born.

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Samsung piggybacked on the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme and ran an ‘overly attached computer’ ad.

To meme or not to meme

We love a meme as much as the next agency. They’re fun, popular and shareable, but like anything that’s derived from pop culture, memes can easily become cliché if not executed quickly and carefully.

A brand will always have a stronger position from relevant creative and strategically clever ideas, meme or no meme.

However, if a brand is to attempt “memevertising” it should be approached with caution.

To do it, there are a few golden rules:

  • First and foremost, pick the right meme and evolve it to make it original or create an entirely new one based on a surprising or relatable fact about your product or brand, think like a curator rather than advertiser.
  • Make it funny – psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott teaches us that our own joy increases when we offer it to others because it forges a bond between us – make something that ignites an emotional response and compels us to share it with our friends.
  • Make it timely – as a rule, if my Mum has seen it, it’s over. Find your own barometer for assessing a meme’s longevity.
  • Make it relevant to your audience.
  • Consider copyright – just because something is everywhere doesn’t mean you are legally allowed to use it.

There used to be an expression in the business, "If you've got nothing to say, sing it." So perhaps today’s expression is "If you've got no idea how to say it, meme it." What’s your opinion on piggybacking? Has memevertising taken its toll on original content? Tell us on our Queensland or Melbourne Facebook pages.

Image references: Memegenerator, Virgin Media