The word “meme” (pronounced meem, not mehm or meh-meh or any of the other iterations you may have heard) is a shortened version of the Greek “mimeme,” or “imitated thing.” Originally defined in the 1970s by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the concept came to refer to a spread of cultural phenomena, ideas, and other artifacts. Online, however, a meme is more than just a catchphrase; it’s a piece of viral, shareable content in the form of an image or video, usually accompanied by text.


Memes reign supreme when it comes to online content, which is why so many companies take advantage of them – and reap the rewards. And it’s no wonder; memes are funny, clever, memorable, and easy to communicate – as all marketing should be! Our own Victoria commented earlier this year that online inbound marketing giant HubSpot even coined the phrase “memejacking” to refer to using memes in marketing.

How Marketing is Using Memes

There are a number of companies, both large and small, that are leveraging the use of memes as part of an online marketing strategy.

For example:

Everyone knows about the importance of cats on the internet – they’ve pretty much taken over every corner of the web. This advertisement from Sprint plays through clips of some of the most popular cat videos online to illustrate the speed of the Nexus S 4G while also appealing to cat lovers everywhere.

Here’s another example that takes advantage of the popular Reddit “rage comics” fad, with the same character highlighted above.


Hipchat is a private group chat service for companies, and with this particular piece of marketing, the company brought some of the most popular, easily recognizable online content around to the real world by placing it on a billboard.

Just for a minute, we’ll also plug our own Pinterest page that’s devoted to memes in marketing. Venues like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr are the perfect place to share memes with an audience that will appreciate them. Regulars on social media, especially on pinboards, and microblogging sites, look for content that speaks to them and that they can share, making these ideal corners of the web for making viral content spread.

What Makes Memes So Great?

Memes are awesome. They’re fun, funny, and, best of all, easy to create. Head over to a site like Meme Generator, and then browse through countless images before adding your own text quip. It’s virtually free to create this kind of content. (Of course, having a good writer on your side can always help.)

But here’s the secret when creating content this way: you don’t actually have to be that funny. By taking advantage of images that are already viral, you’re helping your brand’s online presence – as long as you’re navigating the medium well. Memes give the sense that a brand is relevant and up to date. Readers who look at your content will feel like they’re “in” on the joke, which can help them feel more connected to your brand.

Memes are also a great means of sharing content because they don’t waste time. They offer a quick and simple supplement to the other media you present. Consider a visitor to your site who doesn’t have a ton of time to click around. He or she may not be able to watch your company’s intro video immediately, but an attention-grabbing visual that riffs off a popular meme will definitely catch his or her eye.

Finally, memes rule because they are sharable. They attract likes, hearts, comments, and +1s. Expect your memes to gain plenty of traffic and even more visibility. Memes that you don’t create can also help; by repinning or sharing relevant memes, your brand will show its personality and sense of humor to viewers, helping them feel more connected.

Tips for Meme Marketing

When it comes to using memes as part of your online content sharing strategy, don’t forget about important legal ramifications, such as intellectual property law. There are numerous popular memes going around with copyrighted faces on them, such as Fry from Futurama. If you want to use meme content commercially, do your research around intellectual property ownership surrounding that content. Creative Commons licensing or public domain images are generally fine; major Hollywood characters or photos of children (without the consent of their parents) may not be. If necessary, get the rights by speaking to the copyright owner for permission – or find a different meme.

On that note, because one of the purposes of using memes in marketing is to convey a brand’s relevance, you may also have to find a different meme if the one you’ve chosen is no longer popular. If you use a meme past its sell-by date, your brand may look outdated. You can use the internet’s quick content turnover to your advantage, however; choose memes that are new and fresh, and let them go once their moment to shine is over.


(So unless you’ve got a really unique spin on the O RLY owl, let it stay where it belongs – the year 2007.)

Above all else, it comes down to one of the most important facets of content marketing, period: know your target audience. Memes are funny or touching when we can relate to them. They’re actually pretty emotional in their humor. Memes can convey excitement, as in “ERMAHGERD”:


…or skepticism:


…or can be just plain ridiculous, appealing to the human appreciation for the absurd:


What it all really comes down to is this: enjoy the content you create. Have fun, and with the right tools on your belt, the rest will follow.

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