All your base are belong to us. YTMND. LOLcats. You won’t find any of these phrases in the Oxford Dictionary but they’ve all had their moment of cultural import in the social sphere. A meme is a fleeting piece of Internet ephemera. A wittily captioned photo. A home video that normally you couldn’t pay someone to watch. Or even worse a video inspired by another embarrassingly random video. All have been the stuff of memes.
Eons from now they may call it digital outsider art but today it seems like the Internet is littered with cats in boxes, babies dancing and umpteen derivations of Star Wars. From 15 minutes to 15 seconds to 15 character tweets, the definition of fame has mutated so many times over the past 40 years that Andy Warhol would probably be painting Kim Kardashian cradling the Ridiculously Photogenic Guy instead of Elvis and Cambell’s Soup cans.
If memes are where the eyeballs are, can you buy a 30 second spot around them? No. Can you make your own meme in a lab? No. Should your brand piggyback on their popularity? Maybe.
While all memes are not created equally, marketers might want to consider riding the comet trail of memes with a high MQ, yes, MemeQuotient. The quant jocks at HelpsGood have determined a highly scientific formula to calculate the MQ for a piece of content:
• Random by nature, from left field, unplanned and often weirdly bizarre.
• Bound by a particular set of rules or patterns so that they are immediately recognizable as part of the meme.
• Combinations of art or video and copy.
• Stupidly funny, cunningly witty or knowingly sardonic.
• Self-similar, often being built off prior successful memes making them akin to social fractals or, in Internet parlance, mashups. The more self-referential, the more successful memes tend to be.
• Easy enough – and kosher enough – for mom to share with her email pals.
• Quick to replicate and your own spin to.
Conversely, memes are NOT:
• Messages massaged by top-down marketing departments too focused on maintaining a sterile sense of brand integrity.
• Content that’s been watered down through layers of approvals since those layers usually equate to lost time – miss engaging during the brief window of the meme’s lifespan and you risk looking like grandma when she discovers Crocs are cool.
• Wrapped in DRM restrictions, brand legalese or anything else that acts as a hurdle to the public to share the content or create their own variant of it.
That said, this likely leaves a marketer asking if it’s possible to have your message cut through the social media fog, speak in the vernacular of the nanosecond, and connect with folks who have a clickable attention span, all while maintaining your brand integrity. It is very possible. You just have to be crafty.
HelpsGood has been helping the Ad Council implement the social media strategy for the Smokey Bear campaign for the past couple years across a myriad of established and merging social channels. His wildfire prevention message is a serious one since 9 out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans (as opposed to lightning and other natural causes). Especially given a very active wildfire season in 2011 and 2012, getting the word out about wildfire prevention to all age ranges is key.
With respect to content, we’ve deployed a mix of curated content as well as developed a good deal of original content. Much of this has been micro-content that took little time to create but had a big impact, with some of the most successful content being meme-related.
Here are some of the memes and Smokey’s version of them:
All of this meme-related content has garnered some of Smokey’s highest interaction rates and shares. Yes, Smokey has a very high MQ. It’s also interesting to note that much of it is just repackaged campaign assets from Smokey’s vault, assets that were originally developed for other media platforms. This helps alleviate any concerns about having to churn out or make big content investments.
These memes have also helped Smokey maintain cultural relevancy, participate in social conversations, and spread his wildfire prevention message in a variety of formats, all while maintaining his integrity as an American icon– he’s a senior citizen now and celebrates his 68th Birthday August, 9th.
Not every brand can be this free due to institutional constraints or legal restrictions. But if ever there was an opportunity to challenge your brand’s norm, it’s now. There are ample case studies of brands who’ve co-opted a YouTube star’s fame or tried their hand at ‘going viral’ in order to make their brand culturally relevant in a media landscape. Piggybacking on a meme is a lo-fi way to dip your toe into the conversation of the now.
And Smokey’s got big toes. This week we just launched a new Smokey piece [http://bit.ly/SCNSjW] inspired by the Minimalist Pixel Art meme http://bit.ly/SCNNwx. We’re looking forward to seeing how the audience embraces it.
If you need help tracking down the latest in instant Internet gratification take a look at the latest memes added to KnowYourMeme.com.