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The Rise of The Meme – Is It Still “Just A Trend”?


Unless this is your first time browsing the web, you’ve definitely come across a meme before. They’re everywhere. But, if you think that memes were invented by a millennial or Gen Z’er, get ready to take notes.

The word “meme” can be traced all the way back to 1976, when biologist, ethnologist, and writer Richard Dawkins first used the term in his book, The Selfish Gene. At the time, Dawkins used the term to refer to anything that went viral but It’s meaning has changed over time.

So, what is a meme in this digital era?

We could tell you what a meme is but –

explain memes

Nonetheless, the Merriam Webster dictionary says that a meme is – “an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media.”

Over the years, the “meme concept” has been reinvented over and over again. In our tech-driven, always-connected world, memes have become a vital part of the internet. The main goal was once to create relatable, funny, and easily shareable visual content.

Now, with it being so easy for internet users to skip online ads, marketers have turned to memes as an effective, low-cost way to get in touch with consumers.

That’s how meme marketing came into existence.

According to BusinessTech, the average South African spends around 8 hours a day browsing the web – dedicating a third of that time to scroll through their social media feeds.

With that much time being spent online, they’re bound to come across a few memes. Modern internet users respond well to visual rather than text-based messages, and brands know this.

So, what is meme marketing?

Most people think memes exist solely for their entertainment, but as it evolved, brands and businesses have caught on and have begun using it as a powerful marketing tool to revamp their current social media strategy and engage with their audiences.

sales image

Getting started

The secret is to stay clued in on the latest digital trends and create memes that reference them.

Businesses that are interested in trying meme marketing have two options –

  1. They can either take the road less traveled by creating their own unique meme
  2. Or, they can meme-jack another brand’s meme and edit it to suit their own style and tone.

There is some good news for brands that choose to become meme-jackers though, they don’t have to worry about the plagiarism police. With so many websites offering free images, brands can copy a competitor’s high-performing meme and change it to include their own unique brand message.

On the other hand, brands that choose to create their own memes from scratch should be ready to always stay on top of the latest trends and have a good understanding of what the meme represents. Something perceived as “harmless” today can easily become malicious overnight.

Make your own meme

We have some bad news – there’s no specific meme formula. But, if creating a unique meme sounds like a good idea, these are the basic steps you’ll need to follow.

Step 1: Know what memes meme

For starters, you need to know your memes. Not only do you need to understand its meaning, but you’ll also need to consider whether the audience will understand it too.

Do some research to find out what it takes for a meme to go viral. What works for someone else, might not work for you but you can pick up some valuable guidelines online.

Take a look at what the competitor is posting. Examine their memes to see what they are posting about, and how the audience reacts to it.

Step 2: Choose the right tool

This step isn’t mandatory – you don’t need to use a meme generator. The great thing about memes is that they are really easy to make. There are plenty of free websites on the web that will create a meme that meets the brand’s requirements. These are the top five meme generators –

  1. Quick Meme
  2. Meme Center
  4. Kapwing
  5. Imgur

Step 3: Choose the right image

If you decide to create the meme from scratch, you’ll need to find a suitable image. Consider the brand’s style as well as the genre – do you want the meme to be funny, serious, sarcastic, or thought-provoking? Find a relevant, ideally free visual that will suit the message.

Step 4: Write the Caption

This is the fun part, the possibilities are (almost) endless; you still need to keep it relevant. Now that you have an image and a message, it’s time to put it all together.

First thing’s first, find out how many text boxes are available. Find a way to word the message in an easy-to-understand, shareable way that will encourage audience reaction. Summarise the message so it will stay within the word limit.

Then, it’s time to make it look good. Play around with different fonts, text sizes, and colours, but make sure that it won’t obscure the image.

Step 5: Put it out there

Finally, share the meme on social media and ask followers to comment on and share the meme. Also, encourage suggestions on what type of content they would like to see in the future.

There you have it. That’s how you create a great meme.

Rules of marketing with memes

Before jumping on the meme wagon, let’s go over the do’s and don’ts of meme marketing first.

Do –

Keep it relatable. A brand’s meme requirements depend on the audience. If a clothing brand posts a meme about cars, it’s highly unlikely that its audience will get it. It’s best to stick to what you and the audience knows.

Time it correctly. Unfortunately, trending memes have a relatively short lifespan – it can get old really fast. So, if a brand decides to meme-jack from a competitor, they need to make sure that it’s still relatively new and trendy.

Don’t –

Choose a controversial image. This is why doing prior research is so important. Imagine choosing an image because it’s funny or suitable to the message, then having the comments section bombarded with messages telling you that the person featured in the meme was recently involved in a scandal. That would be really bad for business.

Use a meme just because it’s popular. This ties in with the previous point. Brands need to understand exactly what the meme represents and consider how others might perceive it. Ask the following questions: is it relevant to the brand? Will the target audience understand it? Is it funny? and, is it shareable? If any of the answers were ‘no’, find another meme to use.

Good vs. bad memes – this is the difference.

The Good – “The Distracted Boyfriend”

We’ve all seen this one. This image can be used in multiple contexts and continues to be well-received.

example image

For Example:

meme example

Meme generator: ImgFlip

The Bad – “This is Sparta” Bob Ross

Bob Ross memes are usually very successful, but someone decided to make a “300” reference. Two words – Epic Fail.

meme example2

Image: Imgur

The Bottom Line

Meme culture is always changing. They’re still funny, ironic, sarcastic, and relatable to the right people, it’s just that it’s been reinvented as another useful marketing tool meant to attract and retain the right people.

Are you interested in learning more about meme marketing and other popular marketing tools and tactics? Go from newbie to marketing guru with IMM’s one-of-a-kind Applied Digital Marketing Certificate. Applications now open. Hurry up and secure your spot! Visit https://imm.ac.za/ for more information.