Hey Girl, That Meme Looks Good On You
May 29, 2012
The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool. It tracks data for deep analytic analysis and provides instant access to game-changing information. It promotes communication and synergy. And there are pictures of cats with funny captions everywhere!
Most of these attributes are easily adaptable to business, but there’s often more interest in the more unconventional routes available. Hence companies want to create content that “goes viral.” But, unfortunately, there is no formula for creating a viral video or interactive. Viral happens when just the right content hits at exactly the right moment: a perfect storm of ideas and execution.
Memes, or spontaneous eruptions of widespread Internet participation in an (often ridiculous) event, are a different and mostly unexplored way to tap into the viral web. But how do you translate Chuck Norris or Rick Rolling into something relevant to your company?
As with anything viral, it is impossible to predict the next meme. For instance, who could have foreseen Planking? Or Sad Keanu? Or the Three Wolf t-shirt? Perhaps my cat if he could talk…but that is what is so great about the best memes: a tiny barrier of entry that is entertaining for many people.
Memes are a way to participate in the online conversation and demonstrate a fun, edgier side of your company. To tap into a meme you must meet the barrier of entry and have the agility and flexibility to respond to the moment. One example is when Hillary Clinton went against the grain and submitted her own “Texts from Hillary.” While our Secretary of State most likely didn’t come up with the response, she approved it and received a ton of positive press coverage. And in the trial of Internet opinion she won two thumbs way up.
Taking advantage of a meme to gain attention and increase approval ratings may sound easy, but recognizing the opportunity can be the most difficult part, especially if it begins as something negative about your company. The first reaction can often be “Panic!” and not think through the best response for the audience. The Internet is not the boardroom. Reacting instinctively and traditionally to a meme by addressing it formally or threatening legal action can, at best, lose the edge your company has gained and, at worst, increase a negative public perception.
For instance, when an image of a prank text message about Cat Facts went viral on Reddit, the actual web site catfacts.org responded to the increase in traffic by posting a statement saying it was not responsible for the text and that it was a prank. The opportunity to take advantage of the sudden interest in Cat Facts and expand their business flickered out. If they had approached the problem from a different perspective and focused on being the best place for cat facts online, the surge of publicity could have greatly benefited their company. They even could have generated a list of emails for a Cat Fact newsletter or built a Cat Fact mobile app to continue growing interest. Utilized appropriately, memes can be a powerful tool in building your brand’s persona and relationship with your consumer.
Working at a creative agency, we are encouraged to keep on the edge of online trends. Enter breading.
Following such traditions of “Put a mustache on it” and “Put a bird on it,” “breading” consisted of “putting bread on it.” Although my cat Boo Radley didn’t like it at the time, his face was plastered over Gawker, Know Your Meme and The Colbert Report propelling him to Internet superstardom for an entire five minutes. My famous cat has become a great ice-breaker and topic of conversation with clients, lending a funny story and a bit of humanity to a conference call or meeting.
Consumers and customers love it when a company (or politician) lets loose a bit and has some fun. Continuing with normal marketing avenues, you reach your customers in the expected way, which can be successful but won’t garner the explosive attention of the Internet. To quote a big ole cliché: from great risks come great rewards. Allowing your marketing department to go off the beaten path can greatly benefit public opinion. And it can be a blast.
Boo Radley’s fame was entirely due to the ability to recognize the trend and respond to it quickly. We had access to all of the right components: cat, bread and camera…and didn’t hesitate to use them. Memes are spontaneous and random, and your company must be agile enough to allow for rapid decisions and timely execution.
If your company is a rainmaker and has a marketing or ad campaign primed to go viral, consider how to create your own memes that make sense with the content. For example, when the very brilliant and well-funded Old Spice’s “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign had the country in hysterics, they took advantage by manufacturing the “Old Spice Answers” meme – where user-submitted questions were answered with customized response videos. As an avid participant, I even had a voicemail message from a user-created generator.
Memes are for everyone to enjoy and can be a great way to add some fun to your company’s public persona. So the next time someone puts up a photo of your CEO with a funny caption, ask yourself, “What would Ryan Gosling do?” Then upload your own, wittier retort.
And if you don’t have a CEO in crisis, you can always join us and suggest your own favorite Song To Pee To, a Centerline creation based on the sweet jams that play in our bathrooms.