The Four Rules of Using Memes in Your Content Marketing Strategy

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You know how to use the internet. How else would you have stumbled upon this blog post?

That’s why I think it’s safe to assume you know how to use internet memes. But you may have a difficult time describing what they are. And while you send a few to your friends to convey your feelings, you may be lacking the ability to effectively use them in your content marketing strategy.

That’s why I’m here. Let’s do this.

What exactly are memes, anyway?

Richard Dawkins, an English evolutionary biologist, described a meme as a unit of cultural transmission in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. By doing so, he facilitated a comprehensive understanding of a social phenomenon we experience every day. He writes:

“Memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so do memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”

By definition, then, memes replicate themselves by possessing three properties: longevity (an ability to sustain), fecundity (an effective reproduction rate) and copy-fidelity (a generative history). In essence, Dawkins applies Charles Darwin’s theory of competition to cultural transmissions. But at its core, his definition emphasizes communication and it’s ability to strengthen human relationships.

How to use memes for your business

So, how can we apply memes to content marketing? Let’s begin by thinking about a few memes that became culturally relevant this year.

Maybe you’re thinking about this one.

Me: *opens WordPress* 4 views

Or this one:

“When you’re writing a blog post and begin utilizing the euphemisms you found by perusing online encyclopedias.”

Or maybe even this one:

“You can’t lose engagement if you don’t have any in the first place.”

In a tangible way, whichever meme you’re thinking of speaks to your understanding of social identification. Your understanding, however, is individualized. Which means that so is everyone’s. But that’s why we see different memes replicated in vastly different contexts. It’s what makes their appeal limitless. And it’s what allows, well, really anything the ability to showcase human characteristics.

Similarly, that’s the primary objective of content marketing. Humanization. It’s becoming standard today. It’s also making memes of considerable importance. With that importance in mind, however, it’s easy to want immediate success. Often, that leads to misinterpretations of certain memes and, subsequently, losses of complete credibility.

Don’t worry, though. We’re here to help.  Below you’ll find some memes that effectively contribute to their business’ content marketing strategy. Through the primary lens of Dawkins, you’ll see how the three essential properties he wrote of, longevity, fecundity and copy-fidelity, behave as positive attributions to the posting-business’ brand. You may even find yourself relating to the content.

In which case: we told you so.

1. Use memes that have cultural relevance.

The battle between our ideal self and present self typically manifests through text conversations of the two. Which is the primary appeal of this meme.

Known broadly as “Evil Kermit,” this meme features a screen shot of Kermit the Frog dressed as a Sith Lord from Star Wars talking to a regularly undressed Kermit the Frog. In context, the Sith Kermit is usually attempting to tell the regular Kermit to do something against his best judgement.

The Muppets and Star Wars are two icons of our modern culture. Their popularity spans far, far longer than my 21 years. And in that way, their longevity is widespread amongst a variety of cohorts; it’ll continue to have cultural relevance because it is embedded within it.

It’s why you’ve used it before. It’s how you have a relationship with it. It’s also what made the content marketing team at The Sims come up with this:

This tweet represents a unique approach to applying memes within a content marketing strategy through near-complete individualization. It’s an effective replication that showcases more than an understanding of longevity, but also of their target audience. The meme calls for their awareness, facilitates dialogue with them and signals a powerful emotional response.

2. Use memes that other people can relate to.

sEnTEnceS tHAT lOok liKE THiS seEm to bE evERYwhEre noW. And for good reason.

Spongebob has had a good amount of clout for a while. By that, I mean he’s showcased his ability to sustain a cultural standing through an efficient replication rate, otherwise known as the property of fecundity.

One of these efficient replications is “Mocking Spongebob,” a screenshot of Spongebob acting like a chicken in one of the cartoon’s episodes. Most commonly, it’s used to mock another person’s point of view. And Spongebob, who’s no stranger to longevity, makes mocking widespread fun for the entire content marketing team.

So much so that the East Lansing Police Department, from Lansing, Michigan, created their own version:

It’s important to note that, much like The Sims’, the content marketing team for the East Lansing Police Department takes a rather unique approach to branding.

Take a look at their account. It’s amazing. But it’s also a lot to comprehend in one sitting. Nonetheless, it showcases an effective way to humanize the modern police department for a target demographic that is divided in their perception of them.

3. Use memes that facilitate individualization.

We were graced with Arthur’s fist in the Fall of 1999. But it wasn’t until 2016 in which we realized it’s power. And all-encompassing nature.

This screenshot, known primarily as “Arthur’s Fist,” is regularly accompanied by and used as a reaction to either frustrating scenarios or controversial circumstances. I mean, look at it. Though un-vascular, you can feel the tension. And if you aren’t holding anything with your right hand right now, it’s likely you’ve subconsciously started to clench it.

Maybe that’s a stretch. Still, it illustrates the staying power of, simply, this drawing. What’s important to note, too, is how relatively minimal it is. Maybe it’s because we can’t see his face, but Arthur’s fist acts as a generalized representation that could fit anyone. In fact, that’s why we’re showcasing it, because it effectively invites generations.

And also, probably why Bagel Bites generated their own:

Their execution looks pretty lame. But, that’s the point. By posting this, Bagel Bites effectively invites new conceptualizations of a widespread meme. And through their public defaming of it, does so with ease. It’s their self-awareness, a growing meme within its own right, that sets this meme apart.

Though, I think there was a severe loss of opportunity by not captioning this meme “Another meme bites the crust.” I’ll digress.

4. Use memes that allow you to take creative risks.

This wouldn’t be a successful blog post on the effective use of memes in content marketing strategies if I didn’t mention Denny’s. They’re basically the standard. And their creative use of memes is definitely risky.

This stock photo, typically referred to as “I bet he’s thinking about other women,” portrays a couple, presumably after sharing an intimate moment, visibly in a flux. Reference clues point towards some insecurity on the woman’s part, and absolute apprehension on the man’s, which is probably why this meme was initially created.

But it’s especially risky to use as content.

It usually represents a pretty sensitive subject, while also depicting an unhappy couple in bed. My apologies for that lame attempt at a vaguely-dad-joke. Anyway… It invites opportunity for, let’s say, different interpretations. Though, by having the three qualities Dawkin’s deems necessary, this meme is still eligible for use in a variety content marketing strategies.

I mean, at least Denny’s agrees:

It’s amazing. But it isn’t surprising considering the brand’s history of pushing boundaries when it comes to content. It also isn’t something that just any brand could do either. It is, however, a showcasing of true risk taking. Which is something all brands should try to do.

That’s where Quinlan comes in. We’re here to help achieve successful outcomes for you and your business. But we’d like to have some fun on the way, too. Hopefully, that’s something you’d like to experience first-hand.

Seriously though, allow us the opportunity to help you transcribe the human experience to your customers in 140 characters or less. Tweet or tag us in some Instagram memes @QuinlanCompany.

We’d love to bond through our everyday conditions.

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