The internet is the most powerful global communications tool ever invented. With just a device and a connection, we can speak our minds to audiences all over the world — but sometimes, words aren’t enough to convey what we need to say. Sometimes, the most authentic way to express yourself is through a picture of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills yelling at a cat across a dinner table. When words fail, there’s always a meme to get your message across.
But we’re not quite at the point where diplomatic cables and formal letters are delivered in meme formats (yet). For the most part, we share memes because they make us laugh. There is, however, one arena where memes have proven they are more than just throwaway gags — marketing. If you want your buyers to notice and positively remember you, memes can be a valuable part of your social media marketing strategy.
Why use memes for marketing? Because people love them. They’re funny. They take almost no time to digest. They’re easy to share if you need a quick, easy way to make a friend or colleague laugh. Marketers know that getting through to younger audiences is vital to their long-term success. For these audiences, memes are an indispensable part of online communication. In fact, 38% of Millennials and 64% of Gen Z-ers follow dedicated meme accounts on social media. Meme-based discourse isn’t going anywhere — so you might as well embrace it.
What are memes?
If you were trying to explain memes to somebody who doesn’t spend too much time online, you might call them something like “funny internet pictures.” While not every funny picture is a meme, just about anything can become a meme, whether it starts as funny or not.
Back in the pre-internet era, the biologist Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” to describe ideas and concepts that get transmitted among cultures, mutating along their journey in the same way that genes do. Somewhere along the line, the word was applied to images shared, captioned, and remixed online.
Popular early memes like Success Kid and the Lolcats had specific themes and characters that clued you in to what the meme was going to be about and communicated that the image was, in fact, a meme.
Over the years, the meme format has been refined to a purer essence. While recurring meme characters and frameworks are still widely used, many of the memes you see today are just an image with some plain text explaining the particular feeling or situation that the images evoke.
When memes capture something that’s otherwise hard to express in a funny, ironic, or deeply relatable way, they take off like wildfire.
What is meme marketing?
The simple idea behind meme marketing is to use memes as part of your social media content by tying them into your branding. Three-quarters of all internet users between the ages of 13 and 26 share memes with their contacts. This statistic means that you’re likely to see some free, organic distribution if you post a good meme.
That said, it’s best to go viral for the right reasons, and the internet has never stopped enjoying a good old-fashioned epic fail. The danger of a misfired meme is that you’ll shoot past “funny” and “relatable” and land squarely on “cringe.” Like meme humor itself, cringe is not always the most straightforward concept to define. It basically means that you were trying too hard, you didn’t get what made the original meme funny in the first place, and you look corny and out-of-touch. It’s rather like Steve Buscemi wandering around a high school, trying to win the trust of his “fellow kids.”
Top 11 Social Media Meme Ideas and Tools for 2021
A benefit of using memes in your social media marketing is that they’re fast and cheap to produce – and there are lots of great tools available that make it easy to participate in whatever the hot meme of the week is. Here’s a list of some tools and ideas to get your meme marketing going in 2021.
1. Tool – iLoveIMG.com
This site offers online image editing tools, along with a meme editor that lets you upload your own images or choose from a long list of popular, up-to-date meme templates. It’s free to register and use. But for $6/month, you can get additional tools, larger file sizes, and an ad-free interface, among other benefits.
2. Idea – Memejacking
Many memes persist for months or even years, but there’s always a fresh new meme making the rounds. Memejacking means jumping on these trending memes — hijacking them, if you will — to ride the wave of excitement and popularity.
Memes that originate from one-time events are perfect for this. When they begin, everyone shares as many as they can, but once the meme is over, it’s over. Don’t miss out!
3. Tool – Kapwing Meme Generator
Kapwing’s meme maker provides classic meme templates and trending memes, including lots of animated gifs. It’s free to use, but you can upgrade to the pro version for $17 per month if you want to ditch the watermarks and access premium features.
4. Idea – Make your memes relatable
Memes don’t have to be devastatingly hilarious to get substantial traction. Sometimes, the best memes perfectly capture a certain kind of feeling that we can all understand. Brands can use this type of meme to draw connections to the problems their products solve, eliciting a meaningful emotional response.
5. Tool – Quickmeme
If you’re looking for old-school meme templates, Quickmeme has you covered with a simple interface and a catalog of all the classics. You can also upload your own images to caption. It doesn’t get much easier than this.
6. Idea – Create your own memes
One of the best qualities of meme culture is that you can totally appropriate other people’s great ideas — that’s what makes them memes, after all. However, some brands have had great success memeifying their own content. Netflix does this very effectively to promote their new releases.
7. Tool – Adobe Spark
If you require classy, professional-looking memes, Adobe Spark’s free meme maker has some unique templates for you. Spark offers a full suite of design tools for creating all sorts of visual content for social media, at the cost of $9.99 per month for individuals or $19.99 for teams.
8. Idea – Meme-Style challenges
Meme challenges are a great way to engage with your audiences and generate even more shareable content about your brand. All you need to do is provide a format and a prompt, then showcase the best work your audience creates. It doesn’t hurt to incentivize with prizes, but lots of people will participate just for the fun of it.
9. Tool – Imgflip
This meme creation site offers interesting templates along with tools for creating animated gifs and motivational posters. It’s $9.95 per month to upgrade to the pro version, which allows you to create higher-quality images without ads and watermarks.
10. Idea – Always employ meme best practices
Keep in mind that some memes originate on controversial forums, and others may employ offensive stereotypes. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re not sure what a meme is referencing or why it’s supposed to be funny, do some research before using it. This will help you avoid any post that could be offensive and lead to your brand being damaged or worse, “canceled”.
It’s also important to keep intellectual property (IP) in mind. Generally speaking, memes are highly unlikely to get you in trouble for trademark law violations. But you should be cautious and use good judgment when creating memes that make use of other brands’ IP – just in case.
11. Tool – Canva
This meme creator includes a vast library of stock images and templates to allow you to create and customize a wide range of unique and original memes. The pro version starts at $12.95 per month. It gives you cloud storage, an ever bigger image library, custom fonts, and other useful resources to make and share memes.
Meme Your Way to Marketing Success
Meme marketing is one of the most successful examples of creative content marketing. The audience for memes is enormous, and it’s predisposed to enjoy and share the content. Memes are a fun, fast, and easy way to capitalize on trends and generate memorable content. Just be sure that your memes tie into your branding and the message you want to convey to your audience.
Even in the occasionally staid world of B2B marketing, memes can serve as great icebreakers. They get your name in front of buyers in a way that stands out and creates positive associations. You don’t need a galaxy brain to pull this off — just some good ideas and the right set of tools. So get your images, snappy captions, and brand messaging ready, and start meme-ing your way to social media marketing success in 2021!