I Can Has Meme?

By their very nature, memes are meant to be copied. Their success, and even existence, depends on active participation. But what happens when marketers want to join the fun? Can one simply… capitalize on a meme?

Memes are made by the people of the internet for the people of the internet.
A company participating in a meme can feel like a middle-aged data analyst trying to impress a group of his daughter’s friends by using that slang all the youths are into these days. Odds are he doesn’t get it quite right. Odds are it’s at least a little off-putting. Odds are those girls are going to find alternative lingo to adopt.

Stupidity goes viral.
We all love cringing at epic fails and pointing at mistakes, yelling: “YOU ONLY HAD ONE JOB.” John Oliver, on his HBO talk show Last Week Tonight, recently did an entire segment called “People On TV Misunderstanding What The Term ‘Spoiler Alert’ Means.” Best case: You get it right and look more like Success Kid than Scumbag Steve. Or you’re HipChat and get a massive return on a relatively cheap billboard. Worst case? Trust us, you don’t want us talking about the worst case.

Success Kid. Credit: The Internet (and QuickMeme.com)

Shortcuts have short shelf lives. 
Success or blunder, memes in ads can feel like a shortcut. Instead of creatively demonstrating a thoughtful message, the guilty party simply goes with that thing everybody thought was funny for 10 minutes — I’m looking at you, Sprint screaming goat commercial. Even the funniest clips go out of style in a flash. For example, top viral videos from just a year ago include: What Does the Fox Say, the Harlem Shake, and that girl who burned off her hair with a curling iron. The question boils down to this: “Is this relevant to my audience, or is it pretending to be?”

The fox says, “it would be a great mistake to use me in a multi-tiered international campaign.”

Without a little love from the masses, Grumpy Cat would be just another disgruntled feline and Bad Luck Brian would be just another nerd lost in a sea of unfortunate yearbook portraits. It’s not about companies using memes or not using memes. It’s about connecting with your audience and respecting them at the same time. Pander and you’ll be at the mercy of ruthless, memetic criticism. Truly resonate and the internet will love you like it loves mocking inspirational posters and breading cats (which is a lot).

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