From 2019’s Peloton Girl to Bernie Sanders at the Inauguration, memes have become a strange, comedic source of delight and collective experience across the internet, and around the world. Now brands and businesses alike, are latching onto the medium, leveraging the digital comic as a marketing tool to stay a part of current culture and trending conversations. In today’s climate, we’d say a meme is worth a thousand words – and shares – and provides a wealth of value to your social content strategy with little investment or skill needed. Relatable, shareable, and near-universally liked, memes are a solid way to keep your content current, and reach a wide audience. Here we break down the basics and best practices of meme-making 101 to get you started!
So, what exactly qualifies as a meme? Memes have come a long way since their so-called inception in the 1920s, which first prompted the iconic white background, black text, and simple cartoon format still widely used. Today, memes come in all shapes, sizes, and mediums, from TikToks, Reels, and Gifs, to screenshots of Tweets, and stills from TV shows.
With the rise of short-form content, the “meme landscape” has expanded to include dance challenges, subreddits, and even a major cryptocurrency (shout out to Dogecoin). Memes have transcended their juvenile origins, progressively becoming a top marketing tactic to leverage in your social strategy. Last year, Bud Light sparked a firestorm of headlines with its public talent search for the brand’s first Chief Meme Officer. All this digital uproar begs the question, why are memes such a powerful form of content?
Memes are communal, relatable, and universal forms of content, like a greeting card or timeless joke. They rely on our shared experiences, emotions, and actions as humans, and consequently boast a wide range of audience appeal. Boomers and Gen X have a special penchant for Minion memes and anything related to pre-1980s nostalgia. Millennials flock to any meme related to being a millennial or loving Harry Potter. And Gen Z practically owns every meme dance challenge on TikTok. Every demographic has its go-to form of meme, which takes the guesswork out of finding the right format and topics to appeal to your target audience(s).
The Case for Incorporating Memes in Your Social Strategy
Now that you have an idea of what memes are all about, let’s dive into why adding them into your monthly content mix is a simple way to add measurable value to your social strategy.
Low Effort → Big Return: Memes are a low to minimal effort way to create content that’s both relevant and relatable. The original meme itself is the ready-made template. All you have to do is add your own spin. With the growing push towards greater authenticity on social media, it’s important to keep in mind what people ultimately want. There’s nothing as impactful as scrolling through your feed and seeing something that really resonates with you. Content that makes you feel *seen* and validated. Whether that’s a beautiful product or an honest story, memes can elicit the same response. While humor is your primary goal when creating a meme, the creative process itself helps spark other ideas for content.
Engaging and Community Building: Memes were designed to be shared. When a follower sees a meme of yours that’s not only funny, but also relatable, it sparks an immediate impulse to tag or share with friends, and family who may also enjoy the content. This fiery sensation of shareability is what leads to virality. A personal favorite of ours is the profile @workinsocialtheysaid, a meme-aggregating account constantly shared across the PLANOLY team’s Slack for its hilariously relatable content.
Brand examples: A few of our favorite brand meme-makers include Netflix, Nuggs, Wendy’s, Ritual, and Very Good Light. They really know how to lean into their brand’s identity, and craft their own unique takes on every trending meme to sweep the internet. Remember Emily in Paris? Netflix wrote an entire letter poking fun of their own show that went viral on the internet for all the wrong reasons.
Best Practices for Creating Memes
Consume. Consume. Consume. In order to keep a pulse on trending memes, stay consumed with current social content. Speed is the ultimate key to creating memes, which is why the best ones are always a bit rough around the edges. The trick is throwing your take on the viral meme in the ring while the trend is still popular. New viral meme formats tend to cycle every month, so don’t stress if you miss one in particular – the next one is likely around the corner. One major factor to keep in mind when making memes is timeliness. You don’t want to be the brand that showed up a month late to the trend that everyone already forgot about. We compiled a few tips and tricks in this blog on catching viral trends before they're over – check it out!
The grittier the better. Memes are intentionally scrappy, so don’t spend too much time trying to make them “pretty” or hi-resolution. The visual quality meter for memes is much lower than say, a branded content series, and your audience knows this. They’re less interested in the way it looks, and more focused on the humor or reliability embedded in the meme. We love memegine, Instagram’s Explore page, and Twitter to find new meme formats to try out.
Always do your research and credit sources. Before hopping onto any meme trend, be sure to quickly research who originally created the meme, and anyone featured in the content (screenshot, image, video, etc.) to appropriately credit the sources. Not all memes have the most ethical or lighthearted origins and can land your brand in an unintentionally compromising situation. Only recreate memes that generally align with your brand’s beliefs and personality.
Don’t force it. You know the sense of secondhand embarrassment you feel when your dad tries to make a hip joke, and it just doesn’t land? That’s what it’s like when you try to force content that doesn’t fit your brand. If your brand voice doesn’t have the range for humor, it’s okay to skip out on memes. It’ll come off disingenuous or inauthentic to your audience, and cause more harm than good. Instead, apply the meme’s short-form graphic format as inspiration for content that better aligns with your brand. Think meme-style product infographics, comic-strip style customer testimonials, etc.
Less is always more. When it comes to making memes, less is more. The medium is short-lived and inherently ephemeral, as it mirrors the interests and trends of the current culture. Don’t invest too much time trying to make them super polished or text-heavy. As Gen Z might say, how cheugy (don’t worry we just learned what it meant too). But, if you have a particularly curated brand aesthetic on your grid, and you’re worried about optics, here are a few simple workarounds.
Post memes to your Story to keep them separate from your evergreen content. You can also save them as a highlight on your profile with other fun, lighthearted content.
Post now, archive later. Keep your meme post live on the grid until the trend fades and archive the post to retain a cohesive look across your content.
Rework the meme to match your brand’s design standards. Check out the memes we workshopped for PLANOLY’s channels below. Our insanely gifted creative team members are pros at cranking out illustrated versions of iconic meme formats that fit the look and feel of our brand but maintain the integrity of the meme’s humor.
When in doubt, always go for a simple white background and plain black text. Arial or Helvetica are great go-to fonts. You want to opt for a type-face that’s unfussy, and doesn’t bury your joke in over-complicated design.
Workshop - Timeless Meme Templates
There are a few evergreen meme formats that work for a wide range of topics. A few of our favorites include:
How It Started vs. How It’s Going
You vs. Me
Our face when ______.
Tell me you’re ______ without telling me you’re ______.
What’s something that lives in your head rent-free? We’ll go first.
Tools to Use
When it comes to making memes there are a few meme generators like Kapwing that make creating on the fly super easy. Don’t forget, you likely already have an app on your phone that allows you to add text to photos and video, like Instagram (Stories), Snapchat, StoriesEdit, Canva, or even your phone’s photo album edit settings. Finding clever ways to share content that resonates with your audience is one of the reasons why your company is on social media, and memes are an excellent way to bring that to life. Memes are the perfect relics of our cultural zeitgeist and provide a look into the prevailing spirit, and mood of a particular time. Leveraging the medium to keep your brand a part of the prevailing conversation and culture helps ensure longevity and an overall affinity between you, and your target audiences. Cheers to making your next best meme!
Carrie Boswell is the Digital Marketing Content Specialist at PLANOLY. She is always finding ways to include pop culture and the Gen Z perspective into the content we create for marketers and small business owners.