Point of View

Viral marketing: Making your social media presence more meme-orable

October 26, 2021
Memes. Regardless of your generation or demographic, you know them. You share them. You love them.


And marketers have noticed.

For one, we’re following studies showing memes as part of owned media campaigns massively over-performing compared to traditional owned media images. One study from Asian markets shows owned media content pulling 5% engagement on social media, while meme content comes in at 60%. We’re also seeing data that click-through rates of meme-centric brand campaigns are 8% higher than traditional content.

It’s not hard to understand why this content is so dang compelling. It’s funny. It’s concise. It’s easier to spot and read in a newsfeed than a long-form blog or copy-heavy post. It often relies on politically benign pop-culture references that appeal across our politicized aisles (everybody loves Lord of the Rings, right?).

You can have this one for free, Pringles.

Memes Communicate What’s Normal

Memes imply universal, ubiquitous and instantaneous understanding of the ideas they represent. Memes, by their very nature, create and reinforce social norms around ideas. And, using comedy, they can help a tough sell  go down easier.

Lots of great public health communication in the last year that reinforced tough messages with memes. 

Brands regularly building memes into their marketing.

SparkNotes has amassed more than 370,000 Twitter followers by creating memes that reference literature, cleverly merging the classic with the contemporary and defying the stuffiness some audiences might associate with the brand. (source: https://twitter.com/SparkNotes/status/1447567508656082945)

Netflix regularly promotes its new offerings (in this case, a recent thriller called The Guilty) by turning its own content into memes. Writers even attributed the popularity of Netflix’s 2018 film Bird Box to memes and viral marketing.

The Beard Club

A preferred men’s grooming brand, The Beard Club stays highly topical with current events and pop-cultural phenomena in weekly posts. They also often respond with memes in the comments — both points on display in this post from the recently popular Squid Games.


Meme marketing isn’t exclusive to consumer brands — government agencies are using it great effect too! TSA’s Instagram in particular is loaded with user-generated shares and brand posts that positively reinforce the many rules of air travel with light-hearted content from travelers, while also humanizing what can be perceived as a cold and clinical organization. Take a look at examples on their account

One more thing:

Be mindful of the images you’re repurposing under the auspices of your brand. Recycling a familiar meme image, like the ones above, with your own added context likely falls under the umbrella of fair use, but you shouldn’t copy and paste another person’s or company’s meme whole cloth and pass it off as your creation. Even if it doesn’t constitute copyright infringement, it’s a bad look.

A few more reasons why memes can be an effective staple in your content library: 

  • They’re inexpensive. It’s free to share a meme generated by a user, and many of the ones you may consider are in the public domain under fair use. Memes don’t require a budget heavy production, just an iPhone and a funny idea. 
  • They build goodwill. Sharing memes generated by your community shows appreciation for their loyalty and that you pay attention to the ideas they champion on your behalf. 
  • They’re sharable. Over 50% of consumers 13 – 35 send memes to each other every week, 30% every day. Other age brackets aren’t far behind. 

Five Tips to Get Started with Meme Marketing 

Find the right tone. Believe it or not, there’s a fine science behind creating a memorable meme. First things first, you need to decide if your brand or product would be compatible with the meme in question. It’s important to avoid cognitive dissonance: A campaign shedding light on a sobering topic or centered on a serious social message probably doesn’t lend itself well to jokes. Audiences might conflate your attempts at humor with misplaced snark or glibness. See:

Here’s an example of meme marketing gone wrong. Not only do serious health agencies and childlike memes simply not gel, but these Facebook commenters are swift to point out that the HHS isn’t even using this particular meme format properly. In this instance, they come across as desperate and outdated. (source: https://mediamodifier.com/blog/meme-marketing)

2. Be relatable. Customers should be able to recognize themselves in the observations expressed by the meme. If you’re trying to capture a Gen Z audience, for example, it certainly helps to have a savvy Gen Z writer involved in the creative process — you run the risk of appearing like an out-of-touch boomer desperately trying (and failing) to appeal to a younger demographic.

3. Aspire to virality. Memes are, by their very nature, designed to be spread. The ideal meme image is one that can take on any meaning depending on the text that’s applied to it — this one, for instance:
4. Activate influencers. We’ve covered the ins and outs of influencer marketing before, but working with content creators from TikTok or Instagram to boost your social media profile can work wonders. Not only do influencers already have a built-in audience, but it’s likely that they’re already producing this sort of content.
Here we have a more serious iteration of meme marketing: The White House leveraged the popular social media account @dudewithsign, whose decidedly homemade memes have attracted nearly 8 million Instagram followers, to encourage young adults to get vaccinated.
5. Stick to the story. Don’t use a meme just to use a meme. It should effortlessly complement your brand messaging and make sense within the context of your campaign. Timeliness is also important: The internet moves fast, and memes that were widely circulated in 2012 might not have the same cultural cache in 2021. (This is when it benefits to have in-the-know influencers or digital natives guiding your social media content.) Also, be authentic: Don’t insert yourself into a current event or social issue that doesn’t align with your values (for example, corporations with histories of discrimination exploiting memeable content during Pride Month). If you’re going to talk the talk, you also need to walk the walk.

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