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Feb 1, 2023

Memes for brand communication

Memes have become a ubiquitous part of Internet culture. Especially for younger generations, it has basically become a second language. This leads us to the question: can companies use memes for brand communication? The answer is yes!

Famed biologist Richard Dawkins introduced the term in 1976 as “cultural transmission units and replicators of the human cultural environment”. Nowadays, memes are “those funny pictures on the Internet”. However, they still have the functions mentioned above, in addition to having certain rules regarding how they propagate and succeed.

User Generated Content

As user-generated content, memes are generally created and shared anonymously, about relevant topics or shared feelings, embedded in widely recognized media. For example, famous movie scenes with funny captions are classic forms of memes. Afterwards, the memes become reinterpreted over and over again – until they remain relevant, or take on an entirely new meaning. This is true of almost all popular memes.

Memes play important roles in subcultures, especially for young Millennials and Generation Z. They can have their own themes, within anecdotes and meme formats. In this sense, they reinforce ties within a community. This aspect is also true for consumer tribes. Fans of franchises, games, books, or brands share subcultural memes within their groups. Understanding these crowds is very important to memeing success.

Companies can also use Memes

Given the free nature of the Internet, companies have the inherent ability to join the meme ecosystem. However, they are bound by strict rules, unlike ordinary Internet users. Organizations have to strictly follow them unless they want to incur the public's wrath.

First of all, organizations need to stay up-to-date on Internet trends. Arriving late can lead to excruciating ridicule, or even scorn, by the Internet community. To avoid the aforementioned backlash, companies should always show self-reflection, perhaps even a sense of self-deprecation.

Second, anonymity is also an important part of meme culture. For this reason, companies should avoid appropriating the original memes. Doing so often evokes negative feelings, as it is seen as appropriating common Internet culture. After all, there is “honor among thieves”.

Choose Meme Templates

Memes are parasitic art forms, making use of existing images, texts and tools to communicate. Companies need to keep in mind the implications of copyright laws. Also, how the source materials used reflect on you.

Businesses can choose to adapt existing meme templates or create their own. The latter is less recommended. First, the final product will scream corporate communication. Second, memes evolve through natural selection, it is more feasible to choose formats that are already successful.

Lastly, if using memes for brand communication, be creative. Also, be prepared to be ridiculed. If you accept it well, your online reputation will come first.


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