Know Your Meme – When Brands Try Hard to be Cool

Back in school, there was a noticeable difference between cool kids and kids trying too hard to be the cool kids. The same distinction holds true for brands and marketing.

Consider this: By 2020, Generation Z – those born after 1995 – will make up 40% of all consumers. Brands are desperately trying to build relationships with these young audiences now, allowing for time to cultivate loyalty. Among the countless companies vying for the ever-shortening attention span of Generation Z are companies that do so well, and others that, despite their “best” efforts, do not.

Brands: do your research before incorporating the latest trends. Consider the following questions BEFORE using quirky memes or new slang:

  1. What is the origin/history of this meme?
  2. How are most people using it?
  3. Will my audience understand it? ← Important
  4. Does this make sense for my brand? ← Very important

If it seems off-brand, it probably is; consumers can tell when brands are straining to make a connection between a trend and their product or service. Furthermore, consider the existing audience (not just the one you’re hoping to attract) and whether they will understand the reference and find it funny.

In 2015, one cereal company took a big leap when they plastered the back of their cereal boxes with memes adapted to be about its product. Unlike social media content, where lifespan is measured in minutes and hours, packaging stays in circulation for weeks or months. It was a bold move to incorporate such here-and-gone trends, but being a kid-friendly cereal brand, it’s likely these were mostly appreciated by their audience.

If you’re not sure whether to jump on a trend, sites like KnowYourMeme.com can tell you the full history of a meme: how it started and evolved, proper structure and use, and a timeline of its popularity. If you do decide to publish a branded meme, keep a good sense of humor and be ready to acknowledge your fans with self-awareness in the case it’s poorly received.

When it comes to language, stick to your brand tone. Avoid the temptation to include words like “fleek,” “woke,” or “lit” as a way to connect with younger consumers, unless you’re clearly using them ironically or your brand tone has always incorporated new slang. More often than not, brands that incorporate terms like these are perceived less as relatable and cool and more like awkward adults trying to stay hip to the groove.

Ultimately, awareness – of your brand, your audience, and your social media and community goals, as well as the trend around which you’re trying to engage – is key. Using memes ironically is one thing and, with the right level of self-awareness, can actually be rather successful. However, misusing a meme of phrase is more likely to land you on /r/FellowKids than it is to attract a young, genuinely interested audience.

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