Meme-jacking 101: Everything your brand needs to know

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Memes. What began as fun cartoons to get a laugh out of viewers has turned into marketing vehicles capable of going viral almost instantly.

These amusing cartoons and captioned images speak to everything from being a mom to poking fun at public figures; they engage users and are shared freely. Simple, fun, and well-received, memes are here to stay.

Enter meme-jacking. The practice of hijacking popular memes for the benefit of marketing your brand or product is an excellent, simple way to engage established followers while reaching out to a new market.

What exactly is a meme?

The term “meme” was first introduced in 1976 by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins; it comes from the Greek word mimema, which means “something imitated.” It was first meant to describe humans’ method of transmitting social memories and cultural ideas and truths to one another—ideas that travel from one mind to another.

Now, almost exclusively online and available in various forms, memes are concepts that spread from one person to another in viral fashion. They can be written words, spoken phrases, images, or videos.

Why meme-jacking works

When exploring marketing options, the idea of using a meme may not have occurred to you, perhaps because of the seemingly complicated nature of creating them. This is where meme-jacking—or, as it’s sometimes called, “meme-vertising”—comes into play. By using an already established meme, most of the work is already done.

Need more convincing? Here are five other reasons that meme-jacking is a successful marketing tactic:

  • They’re established. Based on the previously mentioned definition, memes are not memes unless they’re already a popular theme spreading through online society. By using something that’s already popular and attaching a branded message, you’re leveraging the success of something that’s gone viral so you needn’t start from the beginning.
  • They draw traffic. One frustrating aspect of any marketing campaign is trying to drive traffic to a specific website. Memes do it for you. Regardless of their form, when they’re attached to a link, visitors are likely to check out the message behind the meme. They also encourage “likes” and follows, enhancing your array of social network presences.
  • We live in a culture that likes to share. Social media users are accustomed to going online and sharing the information they find. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or another network, each is designed to help users engage one another through sharing. If your meme attracts attention, it’s likely to be shared in ways beyond those of any other marketing form.
  • They’re ideal for social media. Social media networks prioritize images and videos. Users want information that’s easy to process and sends a message without a lot of thought. This is a basic tenet of memes.
  • They couldn’t be easier to create. For any marketer, content creation requires intensive effort and thought. Marketing campaigns are driven by targeted content. Because memes are simple to create and easy to share, they could become a staple of any successful marketing initiative.

Here’s how to get started with meme-jacking.

Know the basics

You don’t have to be a professional designer to hijack a meme, but you should have a basic idea of how to use editing software such as Photoshop,Pixlr, or Canva. If these are above your level, online platforms such as Meme Generator exist to make the process even easier.

[RELATED: Find out how to craft the perfect pitch at our April PR and media relations event in NYC.]

Be ready

You never know when the right meme will come along. Be ready. The most successful examples of meme-jacking occur when a meme goes viral and there are few or no additional hijacking attempts. You want to be the original one to put a spin on the meme for best results.

Understand that memes are fair game

As a marketer, you’ve probably considered the implications of copyright infringement. Luckily, there have been no examples of companies being punished for meme-jacking. Use common sense, and try to track down the owner of the image if you’re going to be making a lot of money on the piece.

Understand that for the most part, memes are fair game. One current meme for hijacking features the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man character. So far, there have been no complaints or issues.

Think about tying the meme into your brand

A meme will not work as a marketing tool if it’s not somehow related to your brand. So, although something might be perfect, if it can’t be applied to what your brand offers, it’s best to stay clear.

From Sprint to Old Spice to Wonderful Pistachios, it seems like every brand is promoting itself with memes, be it on their Facebook page, their website, or even on a billboard, as was the case with Virgin Mobile and its ads using “Success Kid.”

Brands with millions of followers aren’t the only ones using memes, though. A great example of a business with around 30,000 Facebook fans using memes to reach out is Mosquito Magnet, a company known for their repellent products. Their memes, shared regularly on the company’s Facebook page, use funny and relatable images to draw attention to the universal problem of mosquitoes.

Even individuals are getting in on the action. In 2012, riding the wave of Carly Rae Jepson’s hit song “Call Me Maybe,” animal activist and pet fashion designer Anthony Rubio created an “Adopt Me, Maybe” campaign for a local shelter.

Have fun

Unlike the more tedious aspects of marketing, memes are about fun, not just for the viewers and sharers, but for the creators, too. Think of messages that resonate with you, and consider how your target market would react. Have fun, and use creativity to your advantage.

Meme-jacking is set to become one of the most simple, cheap, and effective forms of online marketing. Are you ready to incorporate it into your strategy? If so, consider the ideas above; your opportunity could be just around the corner.

Adrienne Erin is an outreach specialist at WebpageFX. She has written for Content Marketing Institute, SiteProNews, and Socialnomics. Catch up with her on Google+ or Twitter to see more of her work, or check out her blog, Design Roast. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists by searching their bios, tweets, and articles.(Image via)
 

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