Stemming from pop culture, memes are known for their impressive potential to go viral.
Most often rooted in humour, they can also be ideological, political or commercial. Generally an image, a GIF or a video, usually accompanied by text, this concept has been used many times and in many ways.
From fun pictures and screenshots to catchy phrases, questionable analogies and propaganda tools, memes shared on social media have many purposes. They can make people laugh, attract their sympathy, make them think or even make them mad.
You think they are outdated? Think again! When used wisely, memes allow their creators to convey messages or ideas in a creative way, while generating reactions and engagement from audiences.
Derived from the Greek word “mimesis”, meaning imitation, the term “meme” was invented by the British scientist Richard Dawkins in the 1970s.
Dawkins, who was an animal behaviour specialist, explained in his writings that the term “meme” is an association between “gene” and “mimesis”, both words that he notably used to describe the behaviour of certain animals. By extension, the meme became an element of Internet culture that could be broadcast worldwide.
Often involving a parody or caricature, memes are exaggerated, perhaps even shocking, and can depict any number of events and social issues. They can also be devoted to lighter motives such as making fun of a public figure or sharing a funny picture of an animal and interpreting it in many different ways.
The survival of memes depends on people sharing them, as well as on people creating and modifying them. Once they are viral, memes can multiply greatly bover a short period of time or, on the other hand, their spread can stop dead almost instantly. And given the long memories of the “memesphere,” some memes will reappear on our feeds months or years later.
The social aspect of memes
You undoubtedly remember the famous meme of US Senator Bernie Sanders, deadpan, with a surgical mask on his face and his arms crossed, knitted mittens on his hands, during the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January 2021.
Recreated in every way by individuals and businesses, even here in Quebec, this originally very simple image made its way around the world.
Memes are not an exclusively American or anglophone phenomenon. They are used a lot by and about Quebec personalities and politicians, particularly during the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many Quebecers created memes of Premier François Legault and Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda following their numerous press conferences. One famous meme, for example, was of Dr. Arruda attempting to flatten the curve of infections at the beginning of the pandemic!
Whether based on public health measures or some of their quotes, the memes that were shared widely created a sense of togetherness during a time of social distancing, while also allowing for the government’s policies to be criticized.
Why are they massively recreated and shared?
Memes are shared if they are funny and/or draw attention to an important issue. Because of their creative nature, they allow people to express sometimes complex opinions, notions or concepts, simply and visually, triggering an almost instant impact. Thanks to the ease of sharing them, they have a very strong potential to spread very quickly.
Beyond these factors that make them popular, there are psychological aspects of memes that make them attractive in that they play into our tendency to enjoy identifying with famous personalities, communities, situations and animals.
The rapid spreading of some memes can be explained by human beings’ strong need to feel like they belong. After all, who has not shared a meme to a loved one and said, “This is so you!”?
Are they still relevant? When they are used appropraitely, memes can generate engagement from audiences and humanize the words used. Thus, people on the Internet feel closer to the human beings behind the business, the product or the brand.
The power of memes? Shares!
A meme that does not work is one that does not hit the right tone. The beauty of memes is in the contextualization, the association of the picture and the text, and sharing it at just the right time.
If certain memes stand the test of time, others have a limited lifespan depending on a particular event, a quote that made a strong impression or an anecdote that left its mark.
Not all memes are created equal and it is better to not use one simply because you are looking for a quick fix. And be careful with context! What works in one situation or at a precise moment could become a total fiasco in other circumstances.
Memes are worth their weight in gold when used wisely as a marketing strategy, when they are creative and catchy, and when they are interesting for the audience. The conveyed message has to be clear and there needs to be an awareness that this message will have a relatively short lifespan.
They are excellent tools for short campaigns that will certainly have quite an effect!
To learn the best ways to reach a target audience and to generate engagement, whether that is through memes or social media content, our creative team will find the right tone! Don’t hesitate to contact us for your future projects.