Mimetic Marketing: Why Your Joke Always Fall Flat

As a marketer, sometimes it can seem like all you do is chase after the most recent trend, which is why social media marketing has become such a necessary component of good marketing campaigns. The real question then becomes: What’s the new trend?

Answer: It’s memes, fam.

Now don’t worry, I will explain this term because I’m sure even people who recognize a social media trend are often confused by the term “meme.” So, we’ll start with the basics.

What is a meme?

Well it’s a term that modern philosopher Richard Dawkins coined. Originally, its intention was to be a unit in which cultural ideas can be measured. A meme in simple terms is the transmission of culture.

However, memes have spread into many fields of study from philosophy, to psychology, sociology, economics, and even genetics. What does this have to do with marketing though? Well that’s where the wide, wonderful, and occasionally disturbing world of internet memes comes into play. This is something that has become extremely popular with the always valuable teenage/young adult market. In their most basic form, they seem to be nothing more than harmless one-liners accompanying an image in a humorous way. But these memes have gained a culture of their own. They have evolved in a way where they don’t simply transmit a joke, but become cultural symbols.

We see one in particular gaining notoriety in the past year. A particularly badly drawn frog referred to as Pepe eventually became a symbol of racism due to his frequent use by the far-right during the 2016 election. With Alt-Right social media users reposting Pepe as Adolf Hitler, a Klansman, and other racist character, he eventually became their political icon, which was not the intention of the original meme. Every time a meme is transmitted, it evolves slightly, which further changes how it is transmitted to the next person, and the person after that. The meaning behind it changes because every person who consumes a meme and reuses it adds a little bit of themselves in it by commenting in their posts or altering the image.

So back to marketing. How can we us these memes to better our marketing campaigns. The answer is we don’t. Seriously, please stop using internet memes in your campaigns.

Alright now that we’ve got that out of the way lets focus on why not. Why would I spend 300 words explaining to you what a meme is just to tell you not to use one? Easy. I’ve already said it in this article. A meme transmits a cultural idea. While an marketing campaign may accidentally perform this task, its main goal is to inform or eventually sell something. Intentionally tying the two can potentially make your overall marketing campaign fall flat. Even if they are targeted well to customers who will get the joke, they may find you unoriginal and desperate for latching onto a cultural phenomenon.

The meme isn’t a tool. You create tools, craft them, and make them your own, which are all qualities you want in your marketing components. Don’t throw in a random joke because it appeals to “those kids and their internet.” While it may be an incredibly tempting to use them in your marketing campaign, especially if you’ve ever seen how many I repost on Facebook, it will come off as unoriginal. You can’t force a meme much in the way you can’t force a cult classic. Both were born from an original perspective. Stick to creating original material, and maybe one day you will have your own cultural phenomenon on your hands.

Written by Ivan Kvapil
Strategic Manager, Pagesculptor Studios

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