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Memes: different from viral and just as potent

‘Viral’ is used in advertising to describe marketing techniques that utilize pre-existing online networks (like YouTube or Twitter) to spread awareness of a brand.

Viral marketing didn’t just appear. It evolved from message boards like Reddit and 4chan; densely poELMSpulated communities of like-minded internet addicts who are quick to spot the potential for pop-culture references.

While the pathways for the spread of Viral media have been clearly blazed for our convenience by Facebook et al., it would be wise for any online marketer to adopt the language and logic associated with Internet Memes when it comes to nature of their message and how to express it.

First, it’s important to understand what a meme is. Simply put, it is a cultural idea that can be communicated from one person to the next through speech, gestures, textual mannerisms, or other means that are easy to imitate.

The internet variety of memes usually resembles something like an obscure but entertaining in-joke that can be easily referenced, imitated, and varied by anyone who encounters it.

Memes, like genes, evolve through a process of natural selection. Their success depends on how well they adapt to this process of variation/mutation.

In the instance of Internet Memes, this has to do with how simple it is to create something that fits the ‘rules of the meme. It can be as straightforward as adding a ‘Chuck Norris’ reference to a forum post or may involve more complex skills like sound/video editing. Ease of transmission is also important (though this has been handily solved for us by sites like YouTube and Facebook).

You may have heard of LOLCats. Absurd though the concept may be, it effectively demonstrates how memes work on the net. It’s simple to imitate (requiring only a picture of your pet and basic knowledge of photoshop, or similar), its nature allows for easy variation and there’s an inherent element of competition in trying to create an appealing and relevant variation.

“There’s a fine line between marketing meme success and social media campaign hijacking.”

The most vital aspect to the success of a meme is community interaction. You can measure this in tweets, in the number of embeds your meme receives as well as in remixes and imitations. Conventional marketing campaigns draw attention, but memes need to stay with those who see them. They also need to make those who’ve seen them want to reappropriate them somehow.

There’s a fine line between marketing meme success and social media campaign hijacking. It’s therefore important that whatever form your meme might take, it doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously.

It needn’t necessarily be a positive message. Take Kanye West’s unprompted and unwelcome criticism of Taylor Swift’s victory at the MTV awards. His speech was reappropriated again and again and again. Shared reactions like these are what a meme consists of and thrives on. Very few of the Kanye meme responses were positive, but they had millions of people looking at his brand and thinking about him (arrogance isn’t a particularly unattractive quality in a rapper, anyway).

Many advertising campaigns have endeavored to use the cred associated with some of the larger internet memes. Dr. Pepper commissioned the Chocolate Rain kid for a commercial in the U.S., with middling success.

It’s best, from a marketing perspective, to try to create a meme out of an already existing brand, rather than vice versa.

All this takes is a good idea that references your brand, is easy for viewers to imitate, and is characterized by the type of humor typical of Internet memes.

Not the simplest thing to engineer, but well worth considering, and invaluable if made correctly. #


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