To Meme or Not to Meme?

A Marketer’s Guide to Memetic Media in 2021 and Beyond

About This Report
Internet memes are not a new phenomenon, but the events of 2020 have spurred their consumption. Despite their popularity among social media users, marketing with memes can still be a risky business for brands.

Executive Summary

Many social media users turned to memes for entertainment and comic relief in 2020. This report serves as a playbook for marketers on how to use memetic content as part of, or context for, their social media strategies amid and after the pandemic.

What’s behind the influx of memes on social media?

While memes are hardly new to social media users, the events of 2020—including the pandemic and the US presidential election—helped propel their consumption to new heights. In May, memes were the third-most shared type of content on social media, behind only personal news and funny videos, per a survey of US and UK internet users by We Are Social and GlobalWebIndex. A splash of social satire has helped many social media users, particularly younger ones, cope during tumultuous times.

What makes a meme successful?

Memes are built to go viral, but only the best ones do. The most successful memes tend to be those that are funny, timely, and relatable—usually containing a reference to a relevant moment in pop culture as well.

What are the opportunities for brands within meme marketing?

When done right, memes can help brands achieve upper-funnel marketing goals, such as brand awareness, and deepen customer engagement. Memes speak to the consumer on an emotional level, so they can also help brands seem more authentic and human.

What are the challenges for brands within meme marketing?

They’re difficult to get right. Meme culture moves fast, and brands can appear out of touch (or “cringey”) by jumping on a trend too late. Humor is also tricky, as there’s a risk of offending or alienating customers. Brand safety is another concern, as memes can take on a life of their own and stray far from their intended meaning. On the flip side, brands may misinterpret existing memes and use them inappropriately.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report explores how brands can incorporate memes into their social media marketing or use them as a social listening tool. It also includes best practices for marketing with memes.

KEY STAT: Nearly one-third of US and UK internet users had looked at a meme the day they took a March 2020 survey by GlobalWebIndex, with that figure rising to 54% among those ages 16 to 23.

Here’s what’s in the full report


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    Table of Contents

    1. Executive Summary
    2. The Pandemic and Politics Propel Meme Usage
    3. The 2021 Meme Playbook for Marketers
    1. Key Takeaways
    2. Insider Intelligence Interviews
    3. Read Next
    1. Sources
    2. Media Gallery

    Interviewed for This Report

    Sarah Aitken
    Interviewed April 21, 2020
    Todd Anderman
    Doing Things Media
    Interviewed October 26, 2020
    Candice Beck
    Chipotle Mexican Grill
    Senior Manager, Social and Digital
    Interviewed April 22, 2020
    Alessandro Bogliari
    The Influencer Marketing Factory
    Co-Founder and CEO
    Interviewed April 4, 2020
    Steven Borrelli
    Cuts Clothing
    Founder and CEO
    Interviewed April 16, 2020
    Don Caldwell
    Know Your Meme
    Interviewed October 28, 2020
    Andres Echenique
    Co-Founder and CEO
    Interviewed October 28, 2020
    Travis Hawley
    Viral Nation
    Vice President, Social Media
    Interviewed April 30, 2020
    Denis Litvinov
    Chief Information Officer
    Interviewed November 19, 2020
    Noah Mallin
    IMGN Media
    Chief Brand Strategist
    Interviewed April 4, 2020

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    Lucy Koch
    Junior Analyst
    Natalie McGranahan
    Senior Researcher and Taxonomy Manager
    Jillian Ryan
    Principal Analyst
    Debra Aho Williamson
    Principal Analyst