YOU&MEME. Everything you didn’t want to know about memes.

Nicolò Battaglia Copywriter

They’re all around us and most of the time we don’t even realise they’re there. They’re in our WhatsApp chats, our social media feeds, they look similar but are different. They are memes.  And we can’t live without them.

A meme is an image with an accompanying text that gives it a specific and unequivocal meaning and the whole point of a meme is to make you smile. Memes have been used in communication since time immemorial (you can actually find them in Egyptian and Greek art, believe it or not) and communication gurus still base their press campaigns and social media editorial plans on them. The more the merrier, it seems.

Maybe it’s time we learnt a bit more about them.

Why are they called memes?

The word ‘meme’ was coined by the famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to describe a small cultural unit which can be replicated in the human brain. Clear, right? Let me give you some examples: a meme can be a fashion, a stereotype, an image which is copied and imitated so it spreads and is shared en masse (viral marketing anyone?).

Sociology be gone! So the word ‘meme’ comes from the world of genetics. Maybe that’s why some memes are so brilliant?

Meet the first ever meme

This cartoon appeared back in 1919 in the satirical magazine Octopus published by the University of Iowa Wisconsin. It may have been more than one hundred years ago but its resemblance to a meme is glaringly obvious.

The cartoon appeared many times in other magazines over the years until it ended up in The Judge in 1921. It’s all there - image, text, humour, virality – making it the first bona fide modern-day example of our much-loved memes.

Evolution of the meme

Before the advent of social media we had forums, the birthplace of the modern-day meme, where users posted fun images or embarrassingly pixelated GIFs as a reaction.

With the advent of social media, this kind of communication began to change and was manipulated and modified until it became the cultural phenomenon we know today.

New styles and different types and subtypes of memes appear all the time, starting with rage comics (remember the troll face?), Chuck Norris (who scrolls through the feed on his Facebook page with a roundhouse kick), demotivationals and one of the most popular forms of all time: the top text/bottom text.

Nowadays there’s no limit to the kind of memes we can find (google ‘dank memes’ if you want to know more) and formats are constantly evolving: we have gone from the classic top text/bottom text to a white text box at the top and the image underneath in the blink of an eye.

Does meme marketing work? Yes, if you know what you’re doing

OK, we get it. Memes are huge and everyone, in some way or other, is exposed to their content. They’re pop, direct, recognisable, reproducible, viral and, most important of all, make us laugh. That is what makes them perfect for a native digital communication strategy for all (or nearly all) brands.

Creativity knows no bounds – you can use existing memes, alter them or create your own original format – but if you want your content to pack a punch, you need to remember four golden rules.

Four rules of meme marketing

#1 keep up to speed, please: memes have their own trends and evolutions, they can vanish in the space of hours or become legendary, they can start out with one meaning and acquire another over time. Make sure you keep up with the trends or you could damage your brand image (not the result we are aiming for, right?);

#2 don’t be a boomer: memes only work if they are genuine and respect their own rules and linguistic styles. Trying to make a joke at all costs usually achieves the opposite effect and, as a result, fewer shares;

#3 take your aim: not everyone is going to like you, that’s just the way it is. Decide on your target group and create your memes with your ideal customer in mind. It won’t be long until you see the results.

#4 respect meme culture: what we like about memes is that they are the result of shared creativity, but this doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want with them. Avoid distorting the meaning and spirit of the meme, especially if it is famous. Use your imagination to craft a new version of the same content that will draw attention to your brand and products.