The Importance of Memes & Meme Culture In Millennial Marketing

Kenny Soto
Jan 27, 2017 · 5 min read
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Slang in Marketing

“Slang offers an immediate index to changing perception. Slang is based not on theories but on immediate experience. The student of media will [value] slang as a guide to changing perception…” — Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

As I continue my education in marketing and the world of media, I have stumbled upon an insightful book by Marshall McLuhan titled, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In it, he describes the importance of slang in media and how one could use it to gain valuable information on their target audience (along with other topics surrounding media & technology’s effect on culture).

Today, millennials are the largest consumer group in the nation (there are 92 million of us). According to Goldman Sachs, “Millennials are poised to reshape the economy; their unique experiences will change the ways we buy and sell, forcing companies to examine how they do business for decades to come (view the full infographic here).” If it hasn’t become apparent in the past 5 years, marketers have to make a conscious effort today in understanding this generation and their buying habits. More importantly, the understanding of what language they use online to communicate with each other can also be leveraged to bring a sense of deep connection with your brand. This is why understanding this generation’s use of slang online is so vital.

Memes: Viral Slang

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Slang for the millennial generation doesn’t only revolve around emojis, hashtags (#WCW, #TBT, etc.), and acronyms (lmao, idgaf, etc.). Memes are also a form of slang for millennials. As far as my own use and understanding of meme history goes, memes originated from an image-board website called 4chan. Memes range from the subtle commentary of hilarious online antics to the repurposing of other viral content for smaller posts that relate to millennial’s everyday life.

One meme that has taken 2017 by storm is #SaltBae, that originated from a video of Nusret (a Turkish restaurant owner) cutting a slab of Ottoman Steak and sprinkling salt on it. The meme has gotten so popular that Snapchat already has a Bitmoji made for it. Other social media pages have taken to leveraging the meme’s virality to grow their own audiences, one example could be found here (this video has over 5 million views).

This meme is very reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street meme that is still used by millennials. This just goes to show, that any meme can be leveraged, even if there isn’t an immediate strategy that can be created for your marketing efforts.

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Why is #SaltBae (and Memes in General) Important?

The reason why this meme is an example of a potential content opportunity is that big brands haven’t capitalized on this meme yet. Even if a brand doesn’t have the budget to make an influencer marketing campaign using Nusret, they can leverage the popularity of his growing brand through the #SaltBae memes. Regardless of what the content is, the simple fact that it relates to something that people are talking about is what’s most important. Whole Facebook meme libraries have been made in his honor already. The bell curve of his popularity will start its decline as soon as a new viral meme surfaces (which is why it’s extremely important for brands to hop on this train now).

A good example of how brands are already leveraging memes for their marketing efforts is Kit Kat. Recently, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I was presented with this sponsored post:

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This post is an ode to the Evil Kermit Meme which was one of the most popular memes of 2016. Kit Kat clearly understands that if it wants to stay relevant to the millennial generation, it has to speak that generation’s language. The only thing that I am still debating myself is whether or not the timing of this campaign would have been more effective if it was launched much earlier when the meme was only 3–4 weeks old.

Getting Started With Incorporating Memes Into Your Marketing Efforts

The easiest approach to learning more about memes and where to find them is to leverage the young people in your life. I always double check with my network on which memes are currently popular. Source your information from the teenagers and young adults in your personal life and follow as many meme accounts as possible. I won’t put a list of specific accounts to start off with only because most accounts with more than 20,000 followers tend to follow meme trends accurately (it’s how they got their following in the first place). A good starting point is simply using Instagram & Twitter search.

Again, the importance of using memes in your marketing efforts when targeting millennials is that memes resonate with them. The current challenge marketers have in the digital landscape is finding new ways to promote themselves in meaningful ways to a generation that has different values and needs. Given that all businesses have their own audiences, you have to experiment with different creative campaign material to see if memes work for your brand’s voice.

This article is just a starting point, I’d love to know your thoughts on all of this. Do you believe memes are important to your marketing efforts? Have you already started incorporating them to promote your brand?

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