There’s no denying that memes are everywhere. If you’re like me, you probably have entire group texts where the sole method of communication are screenshots of memes. Memes as a medium are often the top-performing pieces of content across social media platforms, so it’s no wonder that in the past few years, major brands from across every industry have adopted their use to delight and entertain their audiences. Should you use memes in marketing? What’re the risks involved? Are memes effective for B2B companies? What’s the secret to a good meme? We’ll explore all of these topics and more, but first, let’s go over what your boss is going to want to hear.
The Benefits of Using Memes in Marketing
There are benefits to posting memes on your social media accounts. The most impactful one is that, on average, quality meme content typically gets double the engagement rate as normal posts. Immediately, that’s a hefty proposition and might just be enough to settle the deal for your marketing team.
But, why is that? What’s the magic behind this sudden boost in engagement? Well, at the end of the day it all boils down to authenticity.
Memes at their very core tap into relatability and the shared experience. Many advertisers market products and services by creating aspiration and desire with the use of gorgeous people in trendy locales. While this is no doubt effective, particularly for higher-end products, it’s not very relatable or authentic to most people.
Memes that can capture the shared experiences of a brand’s audience are far more likely to be interacted with and, better yet, organically shared. Over time, they can foster highly engaged communities that look forward to each piece of content you put out and who all look at your brand with positive, happy sentiments.
But, how do we achieve this?
What Makes A Quality Meme
Before you slap some Impact font on a blurry photo and call it a day, let’s pump the brakes. It’s important to look more at what makes a good meme and, most importantly, what makes a well-branded meme.
First and foremost, a quality branded meme is able to blend into its meme environment. You might be tempted to have your design team start whipping up templates using your company colors and fonts! However, that desire will end your meme journey before it’s even begun.
And speaking of branding, it’s best to avoid “hard sells” on your brand in memes as much as possible. I know, I know. You’re thinking, “but when this goes viral, they’ll learn all about my product and I’ll make so many sales!”
This is rarely ever the case. Remember that shared experience and authenticity mentioned earlier? It all goes out the window as soon as you start hammering the audience with your brand. Here’s a test I want you to take:
Decide which meme is most likely to be shared:
If you said the Tostitos branded meme, you haven’t been paying attention and frankly, I’m a little disappointed.
More people are likely to relate to the general experience of filling up on chips than they are Totinos chips.
The meme on the left is much more akin to memes that people are used to seeing on their feeds. As soon as people see the overly branded design, the facade crumbles and you’ve lost their trust.
Let’s look at a real-world example from a Texas favorite restaurant chain that’s fully embraced memes.
This meme from Pluckers Wing Bar doesn’t mention or contain imagery directly related to their brand, but these are all customer-favorite menu items in a relatable scenario. This meme, in particular, went viral for them, drawing brand-new potential customers to start following their feeds and introducing them to the many memes and photos that do show off a tasty wing or two.
Pluckers is also good about joining meme and conversation trends at the right time, in this case, toward the end of the year when people are thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions.
Let’s look at another example!
Slim Jim is perhaps the best-branded meme account on the market today. Over the years, they’ve not been afraid to get really abstract. Slim Jim makes memes not only about their products but about the experience of running a branded meme account. It’s all very quite meta. Rather than referencing their product as a Slim Jim, they’ve conditioned the audience to see them as “long bois” and the community as a whole is “the Gang,” who are familiar with even more inside jokes, such as finding the hidden 69 on every meme. As I said, they’re not afraid to push the envelope and it’s precisely why they’ve seen unprecedented social growth and increased sales with their target demographic year over year.
Let’s look at one more.
You might look at this and say, “Now wait a minute! They’ve directly called out their brand! I thought you said that was a no-go?” Good eye! It’s true, MoonPie references their brand and product in almost every meme or tweet they put out. The important differentiating factor however is the context in which they do so!
Here, “MoonPie” as a product is not the focus. Tyler the Squid Mascot becomes the real focus and the brand is just the setup. MoonPie is often ingenious with these subliminal meta memes and tweets that use their brand simply as the backdrop for the real joke, never the focus.
Should Everyone Use Memes in Marketing?
The above examples are all food-based B2C companies and that might not be you, which is totally fine! While they may have an easier time at it than you, it’s not impossible to mold memes to fit your marketing needs.
Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has long used humor and memes as a way to educate and keep their customers informed. In fact, they altered their Twitter display name as a nod to recent TikTok trends revolving around old sea shanties (which is a whole other thing to unpack). This tweet does several things at once. 1) It establishes a communal bond for rooting for the Browns in the playoffs, something that probably 99.9% of NEORSD customers are doing. 2) They refer to themselves in the first-person perspective, immediately humanizing the brand. 3) It conveys the continued quality of service that one can expect from the folks at NEORSD on any given day.
Authenticity and relatability. The two key ingredients necessary for any successful meme campaign.
Too often, even the biggest players in the game get it wrong.
Oof. First of all, McDonald’s was trying to get in on a “say no more fam” meme trend that was all about bizarre haircuts. This photo of one of their locations literally has nothing to do with the meme prompt. It does everything wrong that we just covered earlier. It hammers the brand in the copy and as the focus of the content, it misuses a trend completely, and it does not present a relatable situation. Try again, McDonald’s!
Okay, So You’re Saying I Should Definitely Start Posting Good Memes
Not at all! Listen, there are plenty of very viable social strategies that can work, and many can work better than memes! At the end of the day, are memes something that aligns with your brand’s voice? Is your product or service something that’s so visual that it’s most effective when it’s shown off?
Before diving in completely, consider picking one of your platforms and begin sprinkling in a few memes as a test to see how they perform. Maybe your Twitter’s lying dormant and you’re looking for a low-risk way to breathe some life back into it while keeping the high quality aesthetic of your Instagram safe. I absolutely recommend looking at your strategy as a whole before jumping in and really thinking about the options available to you.
If you do end up dipping your toe into using memes in marketing, do what’s best for the meme, not the sales team.