Few brands, in their creative or social advertising production, can pull off such a trick. But memes, and the discourse they underpin, are a crucial part of modern communication. No organization wishing to participate in contemporary culture should ignore them altogether. But how can agency creatives and brands use these tools without incurring derision (or confusion) from their target audience?
How should agencies use memes – if at all? / Battery
How do you solve a problem like… putting memes in marketing?
Katie Hunter, Social Manager and Influencer, Accenture Song
The dreaded “dad in the disco” effect – it’s a big risk. We know all too well the pressure (and often the need) to keep up with social culture; the challenge is to do it in a way that feels authentic as a brand, rather than trying to behave like a consumer.
Does a meme (and the key to observational humor) match your brand tone? Would you be involved in this conversation without this meme format? Otherwise, I would abstain. I don’t believe consumers hate seeing brands in their feeds, but I do think transparency and self-awareness are key.
Jim Stump, Creative Director, The&Partnership
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Memes give advertisers an open door to be part of the conversations people are already having. It’s a chance not to come across as “that couch company” trying to whip you another couch. But beware, walking through that door commits you to a contract, so join us with a fresh perspective or risk the wrath of those who see through your veiled efforts.
Vicky Murfitt, Senior Writer, and Paul Crump, Senior Art Director, Digitas
A few years ago, the answer would have been an emphatic “no”. Just like when we were asked to put an emoji in a title. But we have mellowed.
The reality is that memes cut right to the chase. And we share them. Regularly. Break them down and they’re a great image with a punchy title. Done right, they’re humorous, they’re relevant, they’re timely and, most importantly, hugely shareable – enviable, right?
If you use them in an equally timely way, there is a place for them.
Frederico Roberto, Commercial Creative Director, Publicis.Poke
Over the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of “people’s creativity” across Reddit and TikTok: sometimes for social commentary, sometimes just for trolling fun. By connecting cultural dots that no one has thought of or seen before, a meme is about taking something that’s already hugely popular and turning it — or elevating it — into a new story. Take TikTok’s recent trend “It’s a 10 but…”: we had fun with this for our client Takis during the July heatwave.
Christian Pierre, Director of Digital Intelligence, Gut Miami
Memes have become the best and fastest representation of what is happening at any given time in culture.
When a brand forces a product message into a meme, it becomes the meme itself. You can determine the “age” of a brand by its meme meaning – or lack thereof. Brands should focus more on entertaining than selling, and if they do, their messages will be delivered successfully.
Molly Barth, Senior Cultural Strategist, Sparks & Honey
The irony of memes is that they aren’t always as lighthearted and funny as people think. Often, memes are used by communities to express collective trauma or find humor in the midst of shared mental health issues. So before you consider adding a meme to a campaign, carefully consider the cultural context in which a particular meme sits.
Courtney Berry, Managing Director, Barbarian
There’s a difference between incorporating news culture into your marketing and leveraging memes. I’m a fan of the former if the execution is flawless, not so much a fan of the latter – especially when marketers hijack internet culture for other mediums in order to “reach Gen Z”.
Memes usually have a life cycle decided by the internet which is totally unpredictable. Memes have a specific, intended audience, and should only be leveraged when the crossover is natural and the humor can be nailed. But above all, be quick.
Edd Weller, Global Head of Partnerships, Carat
Brands have been equally rewarded and ridiculed for their attempts to participate, but with the albeit delayed deprecation of cookies, our learnings in emotional and contextual targeting will serve brands well when it comes to being up-to-date and relevant in order to maximize this medium in the media mix.
As with everything, context and nuance are key; especially in such a fast-paced environment and with a vocal, self-contained audience. Technological advances in dynamic creation, coupled with deep insights into proprietary data, mean we have the capabilities to deliver now – but we’re only scratching the surface of the full potential this format offers.
Zoe Osinnowo, Influencer Marketing and Business Manager Head of Inclusivity, FCB Inferno
Memes don’t need to be avoided, but like many things, it all depends on the context. Under what original circumstances did the meme appear? What was the reaction of the public? Is the brand capable of adopting it authentically? Consideration of such factors can make or break content success. You want to receive the desired reaction from your target audience, rather than excluding or offending individuals or groups.
Rebecca Pinn, Senior Strategist, Wunderman Thompson
Memes have become human glimpses into an image, and brands should harness their power to get under customers’ skin and find out what they’re really thinking. Instead of silencing people’s opinions and forcing the narrative from within, embrace meme culture for what it is: when used appropriately, it’s relatable, fun, and interactive.
Louise Millar, Senior Creative Strategist, Seed
Memes are the language of youth. It’s like hearing your parents use slang, if it’s not coming from the right voice it becomes goofy and counterproductive. So it’s not for all brands, and that’s okay. If it doesn’t fit your brand personality and your overall communication strategy, don’t do it. If so, look at the source of the language to get it right.
Tom Storey, Strategist, Havas Cake
Creatives can reference a popular meme in an ad. But if, and only if, the audience that made it popular is the same as the audience targeted by the ad. It can make the audience feel like they’re accessing a “joke”, but as part of something bigger, which is powerful. The spider-man pointing to the spider-man reference in No Way Home is a great example of this.
Brands crumble when they think creating a meme makes them part of meme culture – like thinking creating a football shirt makes you part of football culture. Do not do that.
Jo Bromilow, Director of Social Media Strategy, Golin
The culture of memes is not new; micro-communities with their own lexicons have always set the tone for social communication. Memes are a nod to an individual’s membership in a community that, like the popular Captain America meme, understood that reference. And alongside more exclusive real-world moments, out-of-context, timeless formats — such as the (for better or worse) Little Miss format — will continue to grow in popularity.
Here, where mass relatability and deep community intersect, is where brands can play, leveraging that internet’s first joke-laden language to speak to their most discerning fans in the same language. But – above all – only in places where they have an established right to play.
Dan Noller, Digital Creative Director, McCann
It’s about bringing something to the party. I’ll extend this analogy into three ways brands can reduce their chances of being wrong:
Don’t arrive late. If it takes two weeks to pass all three levels of approval, honestly, don’t bother.
Who the hell invited you? Brands have their own place in culture. Get to know yours from an internet perspective – this will help you know what to get involved in and what to avoid.
Don’t lower the vibe. It’s the big one. Be fun. There’s no point in showing up and not bringing anything new – you have to be entertaining, or what’s the point?
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