When Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg — candidates contesting in the upcoming US presidential election — turn to memes for their campaigns, you know that memes have arrived in the mainstream. Indian brands, too, are riding the meme wave, as it appears to be a potent marketing tool to reach out to millennials on social media.
Aarushi Sethi, director, special initiatives and partnerships at FoxyMoron, says that memes are intrinsically organic and “make for a subtle way for brands to participate in pop culture”. Digital marketing experts believe that a meme can generate ten-times the reach and engagement of a regular social media post.
The list of brands smitten by memes is long — Netflix, Zomato, Max Bupa, ALTBalaji, Tinder, OkCupid, Brand Factory, among many others, have turned to memes to lighten their social media posts.
“If something is trending, we pick it up and put out our take as a brand via memes,” says Roch D’Souza, CMO, Brand Factory. “If we compare the reach we get for our posts versus memes, the latter organically generates very high reach and engagement.” Brand Factory’s meme around the India-New Zealand cricket series reached over 79,000 people and received over 18,000 comments, reactions and shares on social media.
ALTBalaji, meanwhile, has made meme marketing a part of its marketing campaigns. “The strategy is to first understand the content of the show and then decide whether it will work with memes or not. They have to be created in a way so as to not offend anybody,” says Divya Dixit, senior VP, marketing, analytics and direct revenue, ALTBalaji. Besides Instagram and Twitter, the company also actively uses WhatsApp to engage with audiences via memes.
While most brands post memes on their social media pages, there are some that partner with meme pages such as BabaChu, PeeingHuman and Sarcastic Indian — which have millions of followers — to generate and post memes on their pages. These pages usually charge Rs 1 lakh for creating and posting 25 memes for a brand.
The biggest challenge in meme marketing, experts say, is making sure that the post or the campaign doesn’t come across like a promotion.
“We have to ensure that the meme doesn’t look paid for, otherwise people will stop sharing it and it will lose relevance,” says Ishtaarth Dalmia, associate director, strategy, Dentsu Webchutney. Convincing brand managers to be flexible about the language in memes, as the content could be edgy and exaggerated at times, is another big challenge, according to Dalmia. Marketers are often wary of crossing the line and offending people with their funny takes in memes.
A random funny post rarely does a brand any good, says Nimesh Shah, CEO, Windchimes Communication. Brands, he says, need to be consistent with memes for them to be effective. “A lot of brands tend to jump on these things; they do one post here and there. Although people appreciate it, they will not associate the brand with that kind of communication,” he adds.
While memes do unleash a few good laughs, experts doubt the efficacy of memes in brand recall. Users may like and share the post, but seldom does the brand stay on top of their mind.