dog wrapped up like yoda representing dank memes

Unconventional Linking: Dank Memes

August 9, 2018

As lovers and researchers of all things cultural, it’s about time that we wrote about our perspective on the pervasive and cavernous culture of Internet memes.

From message boards and email chains in the nascent stages of the Internet to full-blown “normie” (mainstream) adoption on Facebook and Instagram, memes have come to define the culture of the Internet and its many nooks and crannies. Seamlessly replicating and evolving for communication and entertainment, these viral inside jokes and commentaries provide a lens to see the outlook of generations, an explosive advertising opportunity, and an intriguing resource for qualitative research.

Image © Warner Bros/WingNut Films/The Saul Zaentz Company – Meme by People of the Internet via ImgFlip

Before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is a meme?

While colloquially a “meme” typically refers to an image with text on it, like we’re used to seeing from cultural icons @fuckjerry or @thefatjewish, anthropologists see Internet memes more broadly as the spread of ideas or development of culture enabled by information technology. Using this definition, the only consistent characteristic of a meme is that it must be an expression of an idea and not a physical object, meaning that memes can be speech, actions, images, gifs, emoticons, tweets, vines, etc. The distinction between an Internet meme and the pre-Internet meme comes from the spread of culture being largely limited to “word-of-mouth” and mimicry before mainstream adoption of the Internet.

With the rise of the Internet, memes have literally gone viral. The effortless copy-paste of digital ideas onto instantaneous global forums has caused ideas to be spread, curated, and appropriated at a previously unimaginable rate. This bring us to what some call the Age of Dank Memes, as stale and irrelevant memes or ideas are pushed or down-voted into obscurity in minutes, while only the spiciest memes rise to Internet fame.

But how can memes actually be used?

Understanding Millennial Angst in the Age of Dank Memes

(l-r) Meme by People of the Internet via Know Your Meme | Meme by reidmarcus2 via Memedroid | Image © Andrew B. Myers for TIME; Styling by Joelle Litt | Image © TIME; Meme by People of the Internet | Image © TIME; Meme by People of the Internet via Know Your Meme

Millennials, expected to become the highest spending generation in America this year, make up the core of the Internet and are unsurprisingly prolific meme creators. From generation-oriented memes such as “Old Economy Steve” and the infamous and forever appropriated millennial Time Magazine Cover, we can start to understand millennials’ interlinked angst and humor. Making 20% less money than their parents at each career stage, enveloped in a toxically divided political arena, and dealing with an impending environment crisis, it’s not surprising that millennials think its hilarious to eat Tide pods.

To understand what these occasionally morbid and usually absurd expressions mean for the generation, we can glean some insight from the Dada art movement, the unofficial grandfather of memes. Following World War 1, in rejection of traditional values of logic and capitalism, Dada artists expressed existential angst through collages filled with social commentary. The similarity is beyond evident, as both Dadaism and memes create absurd humor in the collaging of popular images to compensate for an overarching frustration with society of the moment. In making that connection, memes are not an expression of millennials’ nihilism, but a way of lightheartedly confronting society’s woes.

(l-r) Image © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018 via | Image © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp via Artsy | Image © Netflix; Meme by people of the internet via Know Your Meme | Image © Procter & Gamble, Image © Nestle – Meme by People of the Internet via dopl3r

Overall, we believe that there are three broad things that we can learn from millennials’ meme culture:

1)   Millennials are frustrated and disillusioned with the status of economic and political society

2)   The obsession with absurdity and dark humor actually reveals millennials’ resilient mentality in confrontation of these issues

3)   As demonstrated by the rate of meme exchange, millennials are decentralizing their information sources and reacting to trends faster than ever

How are brands using memes?

In the ongoing battle between marketing and non-commercial culture, it is unsurprising that brands have turned to these unsuspecting viral tidbits for self-promotion. Essentially, marketers have two approaches to memevertising, either creating original meme content or advertising in a way that is conducive to memification.

One of the most established brands that has turned to meme creation is the luxury icon, Gucci. In its campaign #TFWGucci (that feeling when), Gucci collaborated with vanguard digital artists to make memes to promote a new watch collection. While the campaign elicited an explosive reaction online outperforming their historic social media promotions in reach and engagement, there was significant push back against the luxury corporation’s exploitation of one of the last seemingly authentic or non-commercial mediums of expression. Gucci shows both the arousal power of memevertising and the age-old risk of inauthentic cultural appropriation in marketing.

Image © Polly Nor/Gucci | Image © @MiltMiltLu via Twitter | Image © Mashable/Rachel Thompson

On the other hand, brands have actually achieved more impactful success in the intentional generation of memefiable content over direct meme creation. Considering Dos Equis’ forever referenced “most interesting man” or Drake’s dad-like dancing in Hotline Bling, we can see how brands are able to fuel the meme conversation without risking exploitation. However, while this approach is less likely to be rejected by your audience, the risk for the brand comes in the complete loss of control in how people will naturally give meaning to your content. Further, the creation of memefiable content requires very specific calibration and formatting – this is one area where we can help!

(l-r) Image © Cash Money/Republic – Meme by People of the internet via Giphy | Image © Heineken International/Dos Equis – Memes by People of the Internet via Ranker

How can we use memes to help your brand? Memefying research

We are the human experience partners, using unconventional thinking and uncommon sense to help you get to know your audience and find your voice. In delving into a set of subcultural Internet forums that fit your audience and analyzing the trending memes and conversations, we can provide unparalleled insight into several facets of your customer, including type of humor, style of lingo, social norms, and content trends.

With this information in-hand, we can further assist in building your brand’s voice to ensure audience resonance and even judge potential for memification. In addition, we have the knowledge to communicate with your audience in a more natural way to elicit deeper insights or responses in more traditional in-depth interviews or groups.

We would love to design an innovative approach to solving your brand’s challenges! Please just get in touch to talk more or to collaborate.

Also, if you have enjoyed reading this, you can sign up to future Unconventional Linking newsletters here.

Image © Warner Bros/Sportsphoto/Allstar – Meme by People of the Internet via SteemIt
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