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Memes, Memes Everywhere

2016 was a ‘meme-ntous’ year. Memes saw people round the world pretend to be mannequins, they impacted the US presidential election, and nearly led the UK government to name a ship “Boaty McBoatface”.

Memes are nothing new: they have been a staple of culture and communications for thousands of years. What is new is the speed with which memes are created, adapted, and spread around the world via social media.

Today, Internet memes are being used to great effect by brands, third-sector organisations and political movements (from the “alt-right” to their far-left alternatives). Opportunities abound for entities who use them well. If you work in communications you need to understand where Internet memes come from, how they work, and how you can use them. This report answers those questions. Enjoy it and get in touch with queries.

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Memes, Memes Everywhere

  1. 1. we are Flint Memes, Memes Everywhere An Introduction to Internet Memes February 2017 we are Flint
  2. 2. we are Flint Hello, 2016 was a ‘meme-ntous’ year. Memes saw people round the world pretend to be mannequins, they impacted the US presidential election, and nearly led the UK government to name a ship “Boaty McBoatface”. Memes are nothing new: they have been a staple of culture and communications for thousands of years. What is new is the speed with which memes are created, adapted, and spread around the world via social media. Today, Internet memes are being used to great effect by brands, third-sector organisations, and political movements (from the “alt- right” to their far-left alternatives). Opportunities abound for entities who use them well. If you work in communications you need to understand where Internet memes come from, how they work, and how you can use them. This report answers those questions. Enjoy it and get in touch with queries. Tom 2
  3. 3. Contents 1. Introduction 2. Meme Basics 3. Popular Memes 4. Meme Marketing 5. Takeaways
  4. 4. we are Flint Introduction Internet memes are the building blocks of online culture. From Lolcatz to the Harlem Shake, via Star Wars or Harry Potter, Internet users regularly employ memes – whether consciously or inadvertently. In recent years, political parties, campaigners, pressure groups, and the public have also increasingly turned to Internet memes to make political points, with movements like Je Suis Charlie, Black Lives Matter, and Make America Great Again. But why is this? Simply put, the idea at the heart of memes is the concept of transmission – content only becomes a meme by spreading. This is a powerful mechanism for organisations who are able to harness it for their key messages and communication materials. While much has been written about the creation of viral content, there is no scientific formula. By understanding memes, we give ourselves the opportunity to tap into the natural mechanism through which humans share ideas online. 4
  5. 5. Meme Basics
  6. 6. we are Flint Meme Basics What is a meme? The term ‘meme’ was coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and appeared in his book The Selfish Gene (1976). It is defined as, “a package that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission or a unit of imitation”. Dawkins was attempting to determine why some behaviours were common in human societies (in relation to gene survival). Pre-Internet memes Prior to the Internet, cultural transmissions existed in forms such as rhymes, jokes, and quotes from movies. These included The Terminator’s “I’ll be back” & Star Wars’ “I am your father”. Pre-Internet memes were also shared through other creative avenues. The American expression “Kilroy was here” and an accompanying image of a man peering over a wall became popular in WWII and rapidly spread through graffiti. There are tens of thousands of examples of historic memes, from the peace and love symbol, to the smiley face, to Jesus on the cross. The significant impact of these memes is apparent due to their replication in the present day. 6
  7. 7. we are Flint Internet Memes An “Internet meme” is a virtually transmitted cultural symbol or social idea, that is shared on social media and is spread rapidly by Internet users. They have become a constant of the online experience. While memes are most frequently shared on Facebook and Twitter, the sharing and replication of memes is not limited to these platforms. They are also spread via email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, forums, and many other platforms. And there are a number of more obscure platforms such as 4Chan and Reddit on which many memes are generated. More on this later. 7
  8. 8. we are Flint Types of Meme The majority of Internet memes are captioned photos that are intended to be funny, or to publicly ridicule human behaviour. They range from cheap humour and shock-value to philosophical content and social commentary. There are various different formats of meme. These can generally be broken down into four broad categories: 1. Image (macro) memes 2. Photo memes 3. Video memes 4. Word memes Since GIFs are an image-based format, we include them in the Macro and Photo meme categories. The following slides detail each of these in turn. 8
  9. 9. we are Flint Macro memes A macro meme is a familiar image with a caption (can also include GIFs). These were used to discuss US President Donald Trump during the election campaign. The memes on the right illustrate the ‘Good Guy Greg’ meme, which depicts a man smoking, juxtaposed with captions detailing his good deeds. Photo memes A photo meme involves a common visual signifier that can appear in numerous contexts. The identifier can be an overlaid symbol, a filter or an action. The ‘48’ signifier relates to the share of British voters that were in favour of remaining in the EU. The memes on the right portray an action called ‘planking’ which became a global phenomenon. 9 Types of Meme: Macro & Photo
  10. 10. we are Flint Video memes These often portray Internet users carrying out a specific action. The Harlem Shake involved groups of people performing sketches accompanied by the song of the same name (first two images). The Ice Bucket challenge, initiated by the ALS Association, encouraged participants to donate funds for research by throwing a bucket of icy water over their head (far right). Word memes Word memes are popular terms or phrases that can be tracked and altered by the online community – typically, hashtags. The #FollowFriday hashtag is still used by many Twitter users to recommend people to follow. Other word memes that have gone viral include #JeSuisCharlie and #BlackLivesMatter which made use of hashtags to comment on political and social events. #FollowFriday 10 Types of Meme: Video & Word
  11. 11. we are Flint Meme Architecture Each meme category has its own style – visual and/or grammatical: Macro memes: These memes are typically made up of a recognisable photo, with text placed at both the top and bottom of the image (see top left). The latter tends to serve as the punch line for the meme and the font is usually Impact. Photo memes: These memes typically contain a photo in addition to a widely recognised visual signifier like the rainbow filter supporting Gay Pride (mid left) or an action/gesture like ‘dabbing’ (top right). Video memes: These memes can combine elements of the other formats, including recognisable gestures and hashtags. They may use popular songs as a soundtrack. Examples include the Harlem Shake or Mannequin Challenge (bottom image). Word memes: These memes tend to be a word or a combination of words, often used as a punchline. Twitter has popularised the use of hashtags, and the format is now ubiquitous – even beyond social platforms where the hashtag has a functional purpose (see below). 11 Replicating still motion for Mannequin Challenge
  12. 12. we are Flint Why do Memes Spread? Richard Dawkins proposed that culture seeks to replicate itself in order to ensure its continued survival, similarly to that of human genes. He outlined three main elements that memes should encompass in order to spread: 1. Fidelity: An idea must retain a certain amount of ‘truth’ in its replications for it to propagate as a measurable unit. 2. Fecundity: An idea must be transmitted to a certain minimum number of people to ensure viability. 3. Longevity: Memes do not need to last forever, they just need to last long enough to propagate. Research shows that if a user shares a meme, their connections feel compelled to do the same. However, the content is often slightly adapted to reflect their own ideas, helping people to establish stronger connections in an online environment where face-to-face contact is limited. 12
  13. 13. we are Flint Why do People Share? Research suggests there are four key drivers of sharing: 1. Social currency (and in some cases vanity): Will it make the user seem intelligent, funny, trendy, or in the know? Essentially, will it make them look good? 2. Emotions: Happiness, wonderment, nostalgia, but also sadness, shock, or fear. Overall, positive emotions generally generate more shares than negative. 3. Usefulness: This includes two types of usefulness: information, like the lowdown on an issue of relevance; and incentive, like competitions or promotions. 4. Storytelling: Good storytelling is rewarded with shares. Which of these applies will depend on the type of meme. But clearly the more drivers a meme taps into, the more likely it is to be shared. 13
  14. 14. we are Flint Lifespan of a Meme Birth of a meme Many memes originate in the darker corners of the Internet, before being popularised on mainstream platforms. The next slide outlines some of the places which have historically played an important part in the genesis of popular memes. Growth of a meme Memes based on current events or the human experience tend to go viral when said event affects a wide range of people. Pick-up by a celebrity or public figures will significantly increase a meme’s reach and heavily influence its “success”. Longevity of a meme While most memes have a short lifespan (1 day-1 month), others defy this trend and remain popular for years. A rare few decline completely in popularity before resurfacing after a period of time (e.g. Michael Jordan crying). 14 Internet search interest for "Harlem Shake" (February–April 2013)
  15. 15. we are Flint Meme Birthplaces An anonymous image board predominantly used by Internet subcultures and activist groups, such as Anonymous. Users have been responsible for numerous popular Internet memes such as Lolcatz. A content aggregation site with web content rating & a discussion board. Reddit currently has 542 million monthly visitors. A social networking site which hosts over 300 million blogs. Memes that originate from Tumblr can have a short lifespan, as many fail to cross over to alternative platforms. An online platform for user-generated content. 9Gag users have created a significant amount of viral content, with some enjoying long lifespans. There are hundreds of Meme Generators such as Imgflip, Imgur, and memegenerator which allow people to generate a meme without registration, and upload them onto different platforms.
  16. 16. Popular Memes
  17. 17. we are Flint Popular Memes As we have seen, the will of the mob and the random inclination of a crowd makes a meme popular. Memes that incorporate humour tend to be shared more more frequently, along with light- hearted content that speaks to human nature. The popularity of memes can also be influenced by seasonal changes and events. For example, Internet memes relating to the Christmas period are created every year. By their very nature, memes evolve – sometimes at breakneck speed. Some of the memes in the next few slides might have acquired different meanings by the time you read this. 17
  18. 18. we are Flint The Hall of Meme 18 1. Y U NO: This is a shortened version of the phrase ‘why are you not?’, with the the rest of the text adapted for different memes. 2.3m unique memes created 2. Futurama Fry: This is a macro series that uses a still of the Futurama character Fry squinting in confusion. 1.5m unique memes created 3. Most interesting man in the world: It is based on an advertising campaign for Dos Equis beer and features actor Jonathan Goldsmith. 1.3m unique memes created 4. Success kid: This is a macro meme of a baby appearing to have achieved an impressive feat. The text is adapted as needed. 1.2m unique memes created 5. One does not simply: This stems from a popular phrase used in the Lord of the Rings franchise. 1.2m unique memes created 6. Willy Wonka: The image portrays actor Gene Wilder as his Willy Wonka character. The text is adapted to reflect his condescending expression. 985k unique memes created 7. Philosoraptor: An image of an animal that provides advice using quirky unravelling paradoxes. 734k unique memes created 8. First world problems: This meme provides captions of issues only considered to be problems in first world countries. 728k unique memes created
  19. 19. we are Flint Current/Recent Memes 19 Get you a man that can do both: It often shows photos of people appearing formally dressed juxtaposed with images in which they are in casual attire. Harambe: After the gorilla Harambe was killed in efforts to save a child who had fallen into its enclosure, memes were developed to position him as an important figure. The Dab: While the dab is not new, memes of people performing the dance move are still popular. It rose to prominence after NFL player Cam Newton dabbed during the 2015/16 season. Evil Kermit: A series featuring Kermit talking with his nemesis, while dressed as the Sith Lord from Star Wars, who instructs him to perform immoral acts. You vs. The Guy She Told You Not to Worry About: A viral joke in which the format is 2 pictures, the left represents “you” and the person on the right representing an upgrade. Bernie or Hillary?: Fake campaign posters in support of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Presidential primary. Sanders is depicted as being more knowledgeable than Clinton. The Mannequin Challenge: This video meme involves participants holding a pose while being filmed. A number of public figures have participated. Boaty McBoatface: After the UK public voted to name the Natural Environment Research Council's vessel Boaty McBoatface, it trended globally & spawned a number of memes.
  20. 20. Meme Marketing
  21. 21. we are Flint Meme Marketing Clever use of memes can raise awareness of a brand, product, or service, and help organisations connect with their target audiences. Memes are about talking the same language and sharing. Many brands have taken to using memes for their marketing efforts, and there are rewards for those who do it well. However there are plenty of examples where brands have tried and failed. This section seeks to highlight examples of success, while also sounding a note of caution. If done wrong, the best case scenario is a badly-used meme creating embarrassment for your brand. Worst case, a feeling of alienation among your target audience. We have included a few suggestions – in particular to show that the use of memes is not just for consumer brands. Ultimately, companies need to test and experiment. Learn from others’ experience, and engage down that road with your eyes open. 21
  22. 22. we are Flint Approaches There are two approaches to consider when creating memes for PR and marketing purposes: adapt an existing meme or create entirely new content to better fit a brand narrative. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Using an existing meme (“meme-jacking”): • Pro: an existing meme already has recognisability and momentum, and adapting the content can suggest that a brand is “plugged in”. • Con: if the adaptation of the meme is not well executed, companies can be accused of hijacking a trend; brands may also miss the boat if they take too long to execute. Creating an original meme • Pro: this can ensure that the content aligns with brand objectives and could position a company as a trendsetter. • Con: it can be difficult to generate traction or momentum when pushing out your own original meme. 22
  23. 23. we are Flint Successful Meme Marketing 23 Jimmy John’s The company created its own version of the popular meme to promote its food as the more appealing option. 2.8k retweets 5k likes 27x typical level of engagements per tweet Red Bull The company created its own version of the Harlem Shake in the sky. 7.3m YouTube views 72% week-on-week growth in views for their YouTube channel Dunkin’ Donuts Successfully developed its own content to tap into the #thedress meme, in order to market their products. 3.1k retweets 4.5k likes 15x typical level of engagements per tweet
  24. 24. we are Flint Successful Meme Marketing 24 Wonderful Pistachios In 2010, the company started employing memes as part of its “Get Crackin” campaign. The Keyboard Cat was one of the most viewed YouTube videos. 3.2m YouTube views 134% sales increase between 2010/11 Frontier The company developed a meme referencing the ‘DeezNuts’ YouTube video to promote a reduction in fares. The meme was trending at the time. Generated significant press coverage Visa The business created its own meme to support equal marriage rights and utilising the then popular hashtag #LoveWins. 2k retweets 2k likes 40x typical level of engagements per tweet
  25. 25. we are Flint A Few Ideas 25 Tech sector Use Star Wars memes to talk about force sensitive touch, which is appearing in new technologies ranging from cameras to phones and smart watches. Food & drink The Most Interesting Man In The World meme could suit a new company or product. It offers an easy introduction. Automotive Adapt the “You Vs. the guy she told you not to worry about” meme to include an image of an out-dated/competitor vehicle or service alongside a newer one.
  26. 26. we are Flint A Few Ideas 26 Renewables sector Use the “That’s cute” meme to portray the superior features of your product or technology. Retail The “none of my business ”meme can work for any competitive industry.
  27. 27. we are Flint A Few Ideas 27 Financial sector Use the Financial Advice Dog meme which features a dog sharing advice while siting at a desk in a suit. The captions juxtapose accounting jargons with canine puns. Think tanks Use the Philosoraptor meme to highlight issues of policy in an engaging way, especially where these require intellectual coherence and consistency. Think tanks Create original memes to succinctly outline the main arguments of an article, like around Matteo Renzi’s Referendum in Italy for example.
  28. 28. Takeaways
  29. 29. we are Flint Takeaways There are numerous examples of poorly-executed memes by brands. Many are documented by the Twitter handle Brands Saying Bae. To avoid embarrassment, here are a few recommendations. Ask yourself whether memes are an appropriate vehicle for your audience. Memes are not used equally by everyone: they are disproportionately used by millennials, people who work in tech, media, celebrities, and fashion. Pitching them to a wrong audience could mean they fall on deaf ears. Have you carried out user research? Research and choose your memes wisely. Some memes are already out-dated by the time they reach the mainstream, and as a result can negatively affect campaigns. For example, the “Tim Tebow” pose, otherwise known as, “Tebowing”, is no longer current. Do you have someone on your team who understands memes and current trends? 29
  30. 30. we are Flint Takeaways Plan ahead to ensure timeliness. Memes are often short-lived, and taking too long to react means you risk missing the boat if you take too long. Brands were still posting Harlem Shake videos months after the craze, giving an impression of sluggishness and not being plugged in. Do you have plans in place to help you minimise your response time? Ensure that the content fits your brand. Ask yourself whether the meme addresses an issue or topic which aligns with your company values, whether the connection with your key message is evident, and whether the tone is appropriate. If not, you could end up looking like you are trying too hard. Do you know where the meme came from? Execute well. This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but a poorly-executed effort can be detrimental. Are you funny? Actually? Get in touch. Even just to use us as a sounding board. We’re quite nice. 30
  31. 31. we are Flint We are Flint is the trading name of 25-28 Limited, a company registered in England under number 10385315