written by: Wong Suet Man, Sherman

Memes! Who doesn’t love them? From Doge, Pepe, Success Kid, Rage Comic to Harlem Shake, PPAP and Salt Bae, they are funny, witty and entertaining. With no doubt, they can be virally spread among internet users from time to time.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in his book The Selfish Gene in 1976 [1], to describe an element of culture whose styles, concepts, and behavior that circulates and grows in popularity. Like a successful genetic trait in ecology, meme is a cultural element that stands out in today’s information explosive internet world, which could be described as a phenomenon of evolutionary survival.

People love pictures and humor. Memes have evolve d to become to a language for internet users to communicate through social media, especially among millennials. They build their own culture and inside jokes with informal or sometimes disruptive elements.

MEME for Awareness
There are brands wittingly taking the front seat to ride on the meme viral wave. In 2011, a startup chat platform Hipchat launched a minimalist billboard in San Francisco featuring a famous Rage Comic meme, “Y U NO USE HIPCHAT?”. This creative meme billboard successfully grabs the attention of internet savvy drivers. They snapped and shared the hilarious advertisement online, creating a viral internet sensation, boosting the search traffic for “HipChat” by 300% in no time [2].

Edgy humor in the meme marketing is more authentic when brands can create a truly disruptive message, not just by the form.

MEME for Personal Branding
Barack Obama fiddles with the meme culture in the 2012 US President Election. In a mailer to Ohio citizens, it writes “STOP LOOKING AT CATS ONLINE AND GO VOTE”. Everyone can get the joke and the message at a glance. This down-to-earth promotion does not only reflect the president’s young and open-mind personality, but advertently leaves an impression to citizens of the digital age.

MEME for Brand Engagement
There is no guarantee of success by just joining the crowd and hopping onto the meme bandwagon. It is a test of marketers’ ability to preside over their brand and their audience.

Gucci recently launched a new meme-inspired social media campaign #TFWGucci in March 2017 [3] to promote its new collection of luxury watches, the Le Marché des Merveilles . The meme concept plays around high-end photography and custom illustrations. Well…TFW a high-end established luxury brand flirting with memes.

Well…TFW a high-end established luxury brand flirting with memes

Gucci has made an aggressive attempt to woo millennial shoppers. Feedback from Gucci’s Instagram reveals that not everyone can laugh out loud with its humor.
“Yo gucci being extra”
“It’s like a bad meme account idk what to do with any of this ”

The campaign somehow tries too hard to participate in the meme digital trend in order to belong, ends up playing a forceful game resembling an old man sales pitch to kids. Gucci as a renowned fashion guru, may have to think twice before pandering the internet youth culture to sell a $870 watch?

Effective meme marketing bolsters brand personality and likeability. Clever meme designs connect with target audience with a tacit message in a trendy language. However, it can get tricky determining whether it is really complimentary to the brand and relevant to the target audience .

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_meme

[2] https://techcrunch.com/2011/04/22/y-u-no-have-lame-billboard-hipchat/

[3] http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/tfwgucci