Webster defines a meme as “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” I’d probably just define it as wacky hilarity with the viral outreach of a zombie apocalypse. Under any definition, there’s no denying that the innerwebz are full of memes, usually photos or videos redone over and over again by Internet posters, each time with a different twist. I took an informal poll among some of my colleagues, and
completely ignored what they said compiled this list of five memes that have made us laugh, cry or shake our heads in disbelief and horror.
Flea Market Montgomery
You’re going to hate me for getting this jingle stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
David After Dentist
Is this real life? I hope so, David. I hope so.
Well played, Philosoraptor, well played. Muldoon wasn’t joking in Jurassic Park when he looked at a member of this species and said, “Clever girl.”
Fus Ro Dah
In November, a video game by the name of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (by local-to-ENC developer Bethesda) set off a firestorm of memes—all with people and even animals being leveled by the Dragon-born shout. Over the top? Yes. Questionable in taste? Often. But clearly tapping a nerve of some sort.
Is there any meme that has penetrated every corner of the Internet more? Demotivational posters have evolved to include several subsets, and a few online tools allow anyone to make his or her own. We can’t say that’s necessarily a good thing. With great power comes great responsibility. Uncle Ben‘s advice is unfortunately lost on the Internet.
And finally, there is an honorable mention you’ll have to see to believe.
Now that you’ve relished in nostalgia (or perhaps have done a lot of head-scratching), it’s important for us as communicators to take a step back and think about memes in terms of our industry. While some memes and viral videos involve specific brands, many do not and are simply modifications on movies, music and other forms of entertainment. Perhaps this is why most memes are just that — entertainment.
But how can brands leverage this tactic? What are the tradeoffs in attempting to go viral? Does notoriety translate into awareness? And can an organization achieve a sufficient degree of edginess without compromising itself in the eyes of customers? Do memes need to be at least mildly offensive to be successful? In most cases, yes. Humor has always been a double-edged sword. Some of the greatest ads of all time were memorable because they were so funny. The problem with humor is that it’s not always easy to pull off — is the cost of being remembered for an epic fail worth the potential benefit?
That’s a decision organizations have to think very seriously about before making. Knowing your target audience inside and out is key, as it always has been with strategically communicating. What will they find funny, offensive or compelling? What customers of Old Spice find humorous probably wouldn’t be perceived the same way by taxpayers who saw a government agency using a centaur in its online media. Social media have amplified the risks and rewards of attempting to stand out. Now, customers can talk back and voice their dissatisfaction with your products, messages and politics.
While memes are great entertainment, whether they involve a brand or not, and viral videos are every organization’s dream, it’s always good to take a step back and be strategic. What are you really trying to accomplish? And what are your audiences’ expectations for when, how and where you should try to talk to them?
As marketing, advertising and public relations professionals, we certainly recognize communication phenomena and appreciate their contributions to the overall media environment. They spark our creativity and give us ideas for how to better serve our clients. But it’s also our job to critically evaluate online messages and determine when and where they are most relevant to those clients’ needs.
All these and hundreds of other Internet memes are explained in greater detail at KnowYourMeme.com. Share your favorites with us on Facebook and Twitter! And sorry about rickrolling you earlier in the post.
Header image courtesy Flickr user seeweb via Creative Commons… because, after all, the Internet is just a series of tubes. Right?