There’s a reason that the word meme rhymes with dream. The internet phenomenon is one of the best ways to kill time at work, make a friend laugh, or confuse your mom. It can also be a clever marketing tool when used with tact. But before we dive into how to use memes for your brand, let’s start out with a basic definition.

What is a meme?

If you’ve always wondered what a meme is, but were too afraid to ask, here’s your answer: A meme is a funny image, video, or piece of text that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by internet users.

A successful meme is like a great one frame newspaper comic. In a single glance, you can get the joke. Popular memes often depict a person expressing an emotion. When taken out of the original context and given a new caption, hilarity ensues.

For example, the “Crying Jordan” photoshop meme was used in 2016 to express satirical sadness by celebrities and regular folks alike.

The photo of NBA legend Michael Jordan crying comes from his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech. But when Michael Jordan’s face streaming with tears is taken out of context and put on someone else’s body (someone who made a mistake, lost or did something bad) it’s funny.

The meme goes viral because people want to share their joy and get their friends in on the joke.

We’ve had great success with memes over at Hootsuite. Memes can inspire spectacular engagement rates as evidenced by the examples provided in our Lessons From 15 of Our Best Performing Tweets post.

Though their power to delight is immense, memes have a short lifespan. Drudging up a meme from 2012 is frowned on by the internet hive mind. If you want to use memes to promote your brand, it’s best to stay current on what’s getting people fired up right now.

For your inspirational digestion, may we present some of the brands making the best use of memes in 2016.

4 brands that understand meme marketing

1. Norwegian Airlines

Keep your eyes peeled for topical content. When employed creatively, the daily news can make a killer meme. Cashing in on the recent divorce announcement of Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Norwegian Airlines released an ad offering cheap flights from London to Los Angeles.

Although the ad was originally printed in a newspaper, photos of it spread like wildfire online. The quick witty caption, the salacious celebrity intrigue, and the one note joke grabbed the internet’s attention as only a brilliant marketing campaign can.

Celebrity gossip isn’t the only news you can use for meme inspiration for your brand. You never know what the internet is going to shake up, so it’s best to pay attention to what’s trending and keep your creative juices flowing in preparation for the right opportunity.

2. Jimmy John’s

A hearty, inexpensive sandwich is easy to love, but still takes some chops to market. The social media wizards over at Jimmy John’s have tapped into the entertainment needs of their target audience in a way that few other brands have managed to master.

Following the Jimmy John’s Twitter account, one feels like they are sharing a joke with that down-to-earth, but still impossibly cool friend they had (or wished they had) in high school.
Willing to self-deprecate, while honoring the greatness of its sandwiches, Jimmy John’s ran with this funny meme comparing “you” to a lackluster cheese sandwich and a Jimmy John’s sub to “the guy she tells you not to worry about.” The joke obviously resonated with the audience earning more than 5,500 likes and 2,800 Retweets.

The meme works because it’s endearing to imagine yourself as a loser sandwich and everyone has identified at one point or another with that sense of feeling small in someone else’s shadow. The meme also encourages the consumer to draw a line connecting a superior romantic partner with Jimmy John’s superior sandwich. Finding the right emotional button and pushing it with a great image and caption combo makes your brand likeable and the consumer more apt to associate your product with positive feelings.

3. Barkbox

Barkbox is a subscription service company much like Dollar Shave Club or MeUndies, but for dogs. Dog owners specify the size of their dog friend, how frequently they want to gift him with treats, toys, and chews and then boxes show up on the 15th of the month. The social media marketers over at Barkbox have managed to earn 1.2 million Instagram followers by creating clever memes that get shared thousands of times.

Exhibit A: This video meme of a hedgehog getting a belly rub with the caption, “sorry babe, got to rub my hog” has been viewed more than 86,000 thousand times and inspired more than 1,100 people to comment. Tack on a funny hashtag (#literallythatsyou) that inspires the viewer to imagine themselves or a friend enjoying a belly rub hedgehog-style and voila you have a successful meme on Instagram.

The video has an undeniable cuteness factor, but is also appealing because it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch. There are no Barkbox products featured. There’s not even a dog in this video and yet the company succeeded in drawing in a huge audience and dramatically increasing engagement. High social media engagement can bolster a brand’s credibility and turn on-the-fence fans into loyal consumers. People want to feel like they are engaging with their peers, not a corporation trying to sell them something. Creating an authentic voice for your brand can help guide you the way of hedgehog belly rubs and their associated brilliance.

4. Ruffles

Potato chip company Ruffles launched a campaign pairing their salty snack with summertime barbecue. Using the hashtag #GrillChillEntry, Ruffles encouraged their audience to send photos of their grilling tips, tricks, and fails. They employed the classic meme layout of photos with caption in white font overlaid on top.

Ruffles also took the widely shared “Arthur Fist” meme and made it their own. The animated PBS show Arthur made quite an impression on children of the nineties and memes inspired by the cartoon aardvark have done well. The Arthur Fist is a great example of a single image conveying a strong, universal emotion. Many have used the image with a caption to describe a frustrating situation. Ruffles used it to illustrate the feeling one might have when their “roommate eats all the Ruffles.”

This one isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s a good example of a company taking the time to understand a meme and making it work for their brand.

Meme creation tools

Tailoring a meme to your brand takes creativity and thoughtfulness, but the meme itself is simple to create. Here are three tools that can help you create memes easily:

Now that you know what a winning meme looks like and how to create one, learn more about marketing to Millennials and you’ll have the internet spreading the good word about your brand in no time.

Manage all of your social media marketing campaigns—meme-focused or otherwise—the smart way. Use Hootsuite to schedule posts, engage with your community, and measure results. Try it free today. 

Learn More