Meme Culture – Yay or Nay?

TechSmith dot com

Did you forward that Monday is here meme to your friends to beat the Monday morning blues? Or sent a Goa trip meme on your best friend’s birthday? Or shared a satirical post around the pandemic to uplift your partner’s mood? Have you noticed how many such vignettes of emotions you share or exchange that forms a part of popular culture, daily!

By simple definition a meme is an image, video or a piece of text typically humorous, that is copied and shared with slight variations across social media platforms. Meme has emerged as a great carrier of information for the average Indian user. It helps to clue them into the current social, political and cultural happenings, with spot-on messaging or emotion delivered in a crisp manner with a humorous or sarcastic tonality. Recent case in point is the meme posted by the Mumbai Police featuring Dumbledore and Snape from Harry Potter, sending the message of importance of double masking loud and clear.

In the marketing world, a trend or a tool or a personality that helps us gain instant recognition and popularity is much sought after. Meme is no exception! Acceptance amongst the elusive millennials, communicator of emotions, capable of eliciting a reaction, share-worthy and engaging, the acceptance towards meme marketing is escalating.

With the power to make any personality, character, emotion or a product popular (negatively or positively) within a couple of hours, this is a double-edged sword and must be wielded with care. As marketing professionals’, we need to be cautious while leveraging this clutter breaking content format to avoid repercussions. Few guardrails to take note of:

  • Brand personality:

Understand your brand’s personality before hopping on to the meme culture. If your brand’s personality has been cultivated as a sophisticated, wholesome, honest and reliable brand then the meme strategy can be jarring for your target audience. However, a brand with a fun, quirky, bold, spirited and young personality, meme would be an ideal marketing tool. It all comes down to how well you know your audience and how you can frame memes in a way that appeals to them, while staying true to your brand’s original personality.

  • Identify the objective:

Inspired by popular culture this satirical piece of content should be crafted with a clear objective – driving traffic, creating engagement in the right way or to share a piece of information. Also, one needs to be careful when responding to a meme. A wrong response can lead to heavy backlash and may make the brand look insensitive towards the audience that the meme is targeted at. If cleverly done, the brand is likely to get appreciation for being creative for a unique meme.

  • Keep it simple:

Meme’s need to resonate with the audience. You need to know your audience’s language, humour, and what kind of keywords would appeal to them. Also, the humour you are communicating needs to be understood by your TG. Do not complicate or use complex words which will not be understood by your audience. Audience is at the heart of any strategy and meme tool is no exception to this.

While the above forms a guardrail on how to make meme marketing successful for brands, there is a dark side to this phenomenon or the meme culture. Considering it has democratised social commentary, no longer is this the domain of experts or opinion makers. With the power of social media at one’s finger tips and a tool that requires no expertise anyone can become an opinion maker or an influencer. This opinion (right or wrong) is heard and shared by hundreds and thousands of people, often without considering the impact on the individuals or the entity that the opinion is passed on. Though often the name of the person may not be highlighted as part of the meme, since the meme creative will be embedded in the current issue or popular topic everybody gets “it”.

Memes often facilitate trolling of the vicious kind, on elderly people, retired officers, politicians or a specific cohort of the target audience. The scary part is that there is no control to this bile-inducing, below-the-belt sarcasm that can be easily created and circulated by anyone. Anonymity on social media is a huge power and is often misused.

But, doesn’t this warrant as a form of violence or abuse of the individual? Lynching a person in the garb of anonymity and encouraging this by sharing the meme accelerates digital violence. How much is too much on social media, is a question many of us are grappling with.

Yes, the meme culture is growing but how it is used, when it is used and for what purpose are important questions that we as brand custodians and responsible individuals should ask ourselves!

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Radha Radhakrishnan
Radha Radhakrishnan has over 25 years of experience in corporate communications and marketing across different industries and geographies. She has built a reputation as a storyteller and a creative thinker. She has mentored social entrepreneurial startups and has been a visiting faculty at premier communications institutes in India. She is currently the global head of corporate communications at Wipro Enterprises. She anchors the weekly PR and Communication podcast, Mrigashira.

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