Why Do Brands Never Get Memes Right ?

10 min readAug 11, 2023
Image source: Buffer

Ah, memes, the internet’s hilarious universal language! They’ve evolved from simple jokes to a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. It’s like a party where everyone speaks in witty pictures and videos — you can’t help but join in on the fun!

Memes have truly become the glue that binds people together regardless of age, forming a shared experience that transcends borders and backgrounds. And if you’ve spent any time on the internet, you’re probably familiar with memes.

Especially in a digital era where we endlessly scroll through feeds, memes shine as the ultimate attention grabbers. As a result of their inherent shareability, they are irresistible in capturing our attention. Within mere seconds, a meme’s format seizes our attention, and its message becomes crystal clear, ready to entertain, amuse, or even provoke thought. Memes’ ability to communicate swiftly and effectively has cemented their status as the go-to language of internet culture, where a single image can convey volumes of humor and relatability.

Image source: Yung Nollywood
Image source: Yung Nollywood

With how well memes have embedded themselves into communications online, it’s no wonder that brands also try to use them to connect with their audience and come across as being relatable and in tune with internet culture. However, the journey from intention to successful execution is not without its unique set of challenges. Navigating the nuances of authenticity and context, lagging response times, brand identities, and ever evolving digital landscape all contribute to the complexity of this.

But let’s shift our focus away from these potential stumbling blocks and set our sights on a more positive quest: the creation of the perfect meme. What are the essential ingredients for this art form? How does one navigate the path towards achieving a good meme ? Whether you are a brand looking for answers, a pop culture enthusiast, a marketer or you just enjoy gaining useful insight, you’ve come to the right place. Together, we’ll shed light on the strategies and nuances that pave the way for a good meme.

Let’s dive in!

A brief history of memes

Memes may seem relatively recent, but they have been around for much longer than you might think.Throughout history, memes have been an essential means of communication, long before the term was coined by Richard Dawkins. They represent symbolic systems humans use to convey ideas and messages effectively. As D. Andrew Price from Memes.com explains, Dawkins simply provided a name for something that has existed for ages — the rapid spread of ideas through the collective consciousness of the public, becoming shared expressions of humor, thoughts, or cultural relevance.

Interestingly, the word “meme” finds its roots in various languages, such as the French “même” meaning “same” and the Greek “mimoúmai” meaning “to imitate.” Dawkins intended to capture the concept of a unit of cultural transmission or imitation, much like a “gene.” Over time, the meaning of “meme” has evolved, especially in the internet era, where users co-construct meme meanings within a social context.

Jennifer Nycz, from Georgetown University, explains that memes, like other forms of communication, are shaped by multiple users in a social setting. People create memes, share them, and invite commentary from the world, leading to dynamic interpretation changes.

Saint Hoax, a popular meme creator, defines memes as media repurposed to convey cultural, social, or political expressions, often with a humorous twist. Memes have an uncanny ability to capture insights that align perfectly with the zeitgeist, making them powerful vehicles for spreading ideas.

In this digital age, memes have emerged as a dynamic and influential aspect of communication, shaping our shared cultural experiences and connecting people worldwide.

What are the ingredients behind a good meme

Events that capture the spotlight in pop culture serve as fertile ground for memes. This was exemplified when Instagram hired Saint Hoax to be its first-ever meme correspondent, covering the Met Gala. The platform recognized that culturally relevant content would emerge from the event and spread like wildfire across social media and it did!

Image source; Mytherapistsays

Additionally memes’ messy and unpredictable nature makes them so incredibly good and appealing. Their charm lies in their raw and spontaneous quality, reflecting the chaotic and dynamic nature of internet culture. They thrive on being unfiltered and unpolished. They capture the essence of a moment, often drawing on pop culture references, current events, or inside jokes, and spread like wildfire across the digital landscape. This untamed nature allows memes to resonate with diverse audiences, transcending borders, age groups, and backgrounds.

memes’ messiness adds an element of surprise and excitement. As they rapidly evolve and remix, memes become a playground of creativity, continuously reinventing themselves and adapting to new contexts.

Image source; pinterest
image source: Buffer
image source: Twitter
image source: Twitter
image source: Pinterest

Memes have the unique ability to bring people together through humor and can serve as catalysts for social or political commentary, as only those familiar with the meme’s origin will fully grasp its meaning.

In a nutshell, memes have evolved into a powerful form of online expression, capturing the essence of cultural moments and uniting people through shared humor. They offer a glimpse into society’s pulse, with their ability to entertain, engage, and spark conversation on various topics. Memes are the modern-day messy cartoons that bring a smile to our faces while subtly reflecting the world around us.

Why brands aren’t getting memes right

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, memes have become a powerful cultural phenomenon that shapes how we communicate, share humour, and reflect on current events. These virally spread pieces of internet humour, often laden with wit, sarcasm, and cultural references, have established themselves as a unique language of the online generation. Consequently, brands have been using memes to engage younger and millennial audiences and participate in contemporary online conversations to capitalize on the viral potential of memes.

In spite of meme marketing’s appeal, brands often struggle to navigate this dynamic, ever-evolving space. It seems as though they are always late to the party, struggling to catch up with the latest trends and lacking the innate understanding and spontaneity that make memes successful. A misjudged meme campaign can cause mild mockery to outright backlash, damaging a company’s reputation and credibility in the eyes of internet-savvy consumers.

By understanding the root causes and challenges, brands can pave the way for a more engaging and authentic meme marketing approach. This will make a lasting impact in the fast-paced realm of online communication.

1. Authenticity and context:

Memes thrive on authenticity and are rooted in internet culture. brands are not typically a part of the online community, and often lack the understanding of the nuances and culture that drive the conversation.

Imagine a fancy event attended by regular people, where everyone is dressed in formal attire, sipping champagne, and engaging in the way they know how to have conversations about art, culture etc. In this scene, brands are like newcomers, decked out in their finest evening wear, attempting to blend in with the glamorous crowd. However, unknown to them, this particular event has a unique twist — a secret after-party happening in the underground club scene.

While attendees may nod politely at the brand’s glossy stories of luxury and exclusivity, they sense an underlying disconnect. The real conversation is happening at the underground club. Here, guests swap inside jokes, share personal experiences, and indulge in humor that only those familiar with the subculture can fully appreciate.

Similarly, memes represent the underground club scene of internet culture — a vibrant, ever-changing space where people create and share content that reflects their shared experiences, interests, and quirky humor. Brands, eager to tap into this lively atmosphere, may participate by sharing their own versions of memes or referencing popular internet trends.

To truly be a part of meme culture, brands need to shed their formal attire and immerse themselves in the online community. This requires taking the time to understand the language, humor, and references that make memes resonate with audiences. By humbly embracing the culture and engaging with users on a personal level, brands can become accepted members of the online club and participate in meme culture genuinely and organically. Just like any great party, it’s about being yourself and finding the right rhythm to dance along with the crowd.

2. Risk aversion

Brands are risk-averse by nature, as they must protect their reputation and maintain a consistent image. Memes, on the other hand, can be edgy, satirical, or politically charged, which may deter brands from diving into potentially controversial territory. This risk aversion can lead to safe, bland meme attempts that lack humor and spontaneity expected of meme-savvy audiences.

3. Lagging response time

The internet moves fast, and memes can go viral within hours. Brands, especially large ones, often have complex approval processes and hierarchies, making it difficult to react quickly to emerging trends. By the time a brand gets the green light for a meme campaign, the moment may have passed, leading to the perception of being late to the party.This tardiness usually extends to even other campaigns that involve riding on the coattails of a trending topic or event,

For example,brands were quick to seize the opportunity presented by the Barbie film wave. However, it seems that Heinz missed the mark with their recent pink sauce post. While the Barbie film was released on July 21st, other brands had already capitalized on the Barbie buzz, especially during the film’s initial trailer release, enjoying the peak of its popularity. Unfortunately, Heinz’s post came just a few days ago, making it a late arrival to the party, as other brands had already been successful in riding the wave of the Barbie film’s excitement.

Here’s are examples of brands that hopped on the barbie buzz at the peak of its popularity:

image source: Barbie x Airbnb
image source: Barbie x Baskin Robbins
image source: Barbie x Fossil

And here’s heinz

While Heinz’s attempt to incorporate the pink sauce with the Barbie theme was commendable, the late entry dampened its potential reach and engagement. In such fast-paced and competitive online environments, timing can be everything. Unfortunately, Heinz’s pink sauce post might not have had the same level of impact had it been released closer to the peak of the Barbie buzz.

4. Mismatched brand identity

Memes are often irreverent and unpredictable, while brands seek to maintain a polished and controlled image. This fundamental disconnect can lead to a mismatch between the brand’s identity and the nature of meme content, resulting in inauthentic and awkward attempts at humor.

5. Changing landscape

Meme trends and formats evolve rapidly, and what works today may not resonate tomorrow. As memes evolve, they may become outdated quickly or cease to be popular as new trends emerge. This can make it difficult for brands to create content that resonates with their target audiences and stay ahead of the curve.

The path to successful brand memes

The path to successful brand memes is a journey that goes beyond the surface-level approach of simply inserting a brand message into a meme format. It requires delving into the heart of humor and cultural references that truly resonate with the intended audience. Brands must see memes not merely as advertising tools but as a means to create content that genuinely embodies the spirit of memes — content that is relatable,witty, and culturally relevant.

To embark on this creative journey, brands must tap into their imagination, infusing authenticity and originality into their approach. It is important to develop a deep understanding of meme culture, staying abreast to the ever-changing landscape of online humor. By actively engaging with meme culture and recognizing its significance in the lives of their target audience, brands can cultivate a strong connection with their users, establishing themselves as integral players in the online conversation.

Additionally, mastering the art of brand memes demands nimbleness and adaptability. Internet culture is dynamic, and memes are a reflection of this fluidity. Brands that can swiftly respond to emerging trends and creatively integrate them into their messaging will have a better chance of resonating with their audience. Such agile brands can ride the waves of viral trends and navigate meme culture with finesse.

Final thoughts

Undoubtedly, meme culture has transformed our way of communicating and engaging with one another on the internet, becoming a language of its own, particularly loved by younger generations. Brands that recognize the potential of memes as a powerful means of connection have a valuable tool at their disposal to forge meaningful relationships with their target audience.

With the advent of digital marketing, brands that master memeing can capture their audiences’ attention and cut through the noise. Brands must speak the audience’s language and engage them on their level to foster camaraderie and trust. However, caution must be exercised to avoid coming across as forced or disingenuous, as this could lead to alienation and backlash.

The future of meme culture remains an interesting and unpredictable one. As memes continue to evolve and adapt, they will undoubtedly shape the way we communicate and express ourselves online. These masterpieces have taken the natural elements of communication and supercharged them, making them instantly relatable, simple and globally accessible. So, let’s carefully join in on the fun and as the kids say, “The girls that get it, get it and girls that don’t, don’t




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