Monday, January 16, 2012

Memes and Marketing – Tapping the Cultural Conscience

“Meme” was not a term with which I was familiar until recently.  I did some digging. Understanding the power and speed at which these ideas move through the population make them of value to marketers - if you can can catch them. 

What is a meme?  Chuck Norris

A biologist named Richard Dawkins, in his 1989 book “The Selfish Gene”, created the term to describe a cultural unit of measure that replicates itself through imitation.  A meme is an idea that is held in the collective conscious of many -- a(n) idea, video clip, snippet of music, crazy internet gag.  They spread at light speed through culture and are applied in, often, bizarre ways beyond their original intent.


Memetics, or the study of memes and culture, was created in the 1990s, but ultimately imploded under the weight of some very smart people debating whether any of this was measurable and could hold up to being called real science. 

Cultural Internet Memes

Since the term is new within this generation, most of todays well known cultural memes come from items shared on the internet.  The website “Know Your meme” is a good place to start to find what's trending.  Most internet memes are small comic snippets, sayings, and illustrations.  They are shared, cut and pasted through Facebook, Twitter, and soon become the cultural speak of the day to an internet-obsessed world.

Rebecca Black–Friday

One famous example of the power of a meme is a music video released by an unknown 13-year old girl, Rebecca Black, called Friday”.  She uploaded it onto You Tube in February 2011. It was picked up  by The Daily What, a popular feed, and  was scattered around the internet to the point where it was receiving hundreds of thousand of views every day.  She was the top trending Twitter event on March 14th 2011. 

The song is actually horrible, which helped its appeal, and catapulted Rebecca Black to one of the best known singers in the world. She has since been invited to sing her song on the talk shows. The meme of this comes through its sharing, cutting, photo-shopping, and inserting into every imaginable online situation.  The replication completely loses sight of the original intent.  The video has been seen over 167 million times!  It is said to be the most disliked video ever on YouTube.

A couple of other popular internet memes – recognize them?  They are popping up in internet culture everywhere.


Yo DawgLOL Cat

Memes – Beyond Pop Culture

It could be argued that memes apply to topics such as religious belief, political ideals, as well as stories passed along through generations.  Politics are filled with memes.  They work well in their ability to frame complex subjects in one and two word phrases.  War has its “Terrorists” as well as its “Patriots”.  These are words now used to describe people intent on killing each other. The terms help us know who is on the right side.   Now the words are used to describe anyone who disagrees or agrees with our point of view.

In political debates, the conservative right wants to be the “Tea Party” and the radical left simply wants to “Occupy”.   These are catchy and can be used far beyond from where they originated.  Tea PartyOccupy sign up




Memetic Marketing 

Using memes to sell products gets a little tricky. Advertising is rarely viewed as pop culture anymore.  There are a couple of notable exceptions - the Old Spice brand’s videos went viral and have extended the campaign to the Old Spice Man answering viewers questions

Old Spice–Your Man Could Smell Like Me

I always liked the 1990s Budweiser “Wassup” campaign and the term took off around the US.

Wassup–Budweiser commercial

Humor seems to be at the root of internet and advertising memes, but serious messages can also play well.  Good cultural memes play on a unique emotion – whether silly or serious.  Memes that capture teenage fun, coolness (or not) or just plain ridiculous, are hard to predict, much less design.  Overtly branding the message will seem too much like hard sell. 

There is a new term, Memetic Marketing, which I would describe as simply being there in the culture and being talked about.  You can’t predict when an idea will become a meme and spread around the world, but I would have loved to have been the brand of cereal on the table when Rebecca Black filmed her video.

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