If you’re on social media, when is the last time you scrolled down any one of your timelines and DID NOT see a meme? It’s been a while, right? Let’s face it, memes dominate nearly all social media channels. Moreover, memes extend far beyond social media. They have slowly, but surely, taken over my DM’s, group chats, and iMessages as well. Who knew that a relevant or significant image with a small amount of text could provide such comic relief and entertainment?
According to Rocheleau (2017), a meme “can be summed up as jokes told over photographs or cartoons, occasionally (or more often) in poor taste.” While memes are a fun distraction from reality, they also serve as a communicative tool for many. They can help to start conversations, help drive home a point, or help to smooth over looming conflicts.
Usually, memes are still shots of something with some sort of cultural significance that is constantly repurposed and tailored for a specific audience and shared (sometimes going viral). For example, take a look at figure 2. I’m sure you can think of a few different memes that fit each picture.
But, who should use memes? Technically anyone can use memes, but is it appropriate for businesses and brands to use memes to stay relevant and in front of their audience? I think it all depends on your audience. Klanderman (2018) says, “From a business perspective, if you’re on social media and having troubles reaching younger audiences or problems with engagement, this may be your “in.” I believe that if the brand uses memes in a lighthearted and tasteful way, it could be very beneficial. On the other hand, if a brand or organization misuses a meme, it could be very detrimental to their reputation and could risk being, for lack of better words, the latest victim of cancel culture. I think this most important thing for brands to do is to stay authentic and not try to insert themselves into a space just because something is viral. Not only do I believe that the brand must use memes in an appropriate way, I think it should relate back to the brand is some way to drive home the messaging and help to connect with the audience. Disney does a beautiful job using memes in my opinion (see figure 3).
Do you think memes are just a trend or are they here to stay? Can you think of another brand that uses memes effectively to reach their audience while staying authentic?
I feel like memes are so deeply ingrained in our culture that they will continue to be popular amongst everyone if used properly despite the introduction and increased usage of gifs(that’s a whole other topic for another day).