Should Your Brand Make Memes?
by Nate Glass
by Nate Glass
Memes have grown into a generation-defining online staple. Over the past decade, every major social media platform has seen a surge in meme accounts, many racking up millions of followers and boasting engagement rates that most brands would kill for. In response, companies are getting serious about the marketing potential of memes.
Even presidential candidates have recognized their value. When Michael Bloomberg wanted to increase his name recognition among younger voters, he partnered with meme accounts on Instagram that represented a collective 60 million followers. While he ultimately failed to make any headway with that demographic, there’s no denying that memes are now viewed as a splashy way to try and reach an audience you’ve struggled to connect with.
If you want to incorporate memes into your marketing strategy, there are two major avenues: posting organic meme content on owned channels, or partnering with a content creator.
Partnerships have been successful for several brands. Over the last two years, the dating app Hinge launched an effective meme-based marketing partnership advertising on some of Instagram’s largest meme pages. Many of the posts are subtle—you wouldn’t be able to tell they were ads if it weren’t for the mandatory #ad disclaimer in the captions. They typically include a screenshot of a hypothetical text conversation, with one person’s name listed as “Hinge Boy” or “Molly, from Hinge.” By playing into the wide world of dating misadventures and telling the stories of its users with a comedic or dramatic flair, the brand has successfully leveraged memes to position its app as the go-to choice for millennials.
When it comes to owned-media account strategy, Slim Jim’s Instagram account is regarded as the gold standard of brand meme pages. It started with the late Andy Hines, a superfan who was running an independent account about the product that had thousands more followers than the official account. After Slim Jim saw Andy’s impressive work, they hired him to take over the official account. He proceeded to grow it from 5,000 followers to more than 1.1 million with a steady stream of viral meme content and coined the term “Long Boi Gang” to refer to the incredibly loyal follower base. Other brands started taking note of this success including Bud Light, which is currently searching for its first-ever “Chief Meme Officer.”
But what works for Slim Jim won’t work for all. Most brands won’t find success by turning their official social media pages into meme accounts. Memes tend to have short lifespans—so it takes a lot of manpower to keep creating truly funny, engaging content.
There is also a risk of reputational harm if not executed correctly. Many brands have tried and failed to execute even a single organic meme post, let alone a whole content calendar’s worth. In one particularly cringe-worthy example, Chase Bank tried to poke fun at millennials’ spending habits with an organic Twitter post. It came across as out of touch, especially for a bank that had received hundreds of millions in government bailouts and drew the ire of some big names—including then-presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Chase removed it quickly after posting, but not before it was saved for posterity through hundreds of screenshots on Twitter and Reddit.
A safer way of incorporating memes into your strategy is to pursue partnerships with content creators. The benefits are clear: these pages already have a loyal audience and the expertise to craft a post that aligns with your brand. You can start with a small investment and scale it up if it works.
While not every brand can or should even make this leap, there are benefits that should be considered. Memes have higher engagement than traditional corporate content and are more likely to be shared organically between consumers. Research has shown that the better the brand’s content is, the more brand loyalty it generates. Memes can also help your brand reach younger audiences who can be more difficult to connect with through traditional methods or “legacy” media. However, proceed with caution unless you want to be greeted with a “silence, brand” or Twitter ratioed into oblivion.
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