And the meme for best losing face goes to…
So, as awards season winds down, we bid goodbye to one of the more prominent memes of our time – Poor Leo. Mr DiCaprio has finally broken his Oscars duck, and with it go all those pictures of him looking sad at award ceremonies.
Despite Poor Leo being replaced by Happy Leo, it’s always a safe bet that at some point during the proceedings one A-Lister or another will make a face that betrays more than their publicist would ideally like them to and the internet will spring into action capturing and replicating this snapshot of our cultural evolution.
Memes were originally conceived as just that by evolutionary biologist and well-known opinion haver Richard Dawkins. In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins described a meme as a unit of our cultural DNA, passed on from person to person in behaviour, evolving over time as society did.
This being the internet age, we’ve got memes on computers now. They’re not exactly what Dawkins was talking about, but they do get close in the form of the shared behaviours and norms of internet culture. They come in all shapes and sizes (remember when everyone was taking photos of themselves ‘planking’ on things…that was weird, wasn’t it?) but in this blog, we’ll be talking about the type most frequently found on our Facebook feeds. And because it’s Oscar season, we’ll be doing so using the medium of film stars.
They look something like this:
Sean Bean is right; you don’t simply make a meme. Boromir’s scepticism about the difficulty of getting to Mordor was justified, and Sean Bean’s exasperated delivery caught the imagination of an internet community that was already there and was used to struggling to get its point across.
Someone else who was used to the struggle was Poor Leo. Poor, Oscarless Leo. Leo and his winless streak was the subject of one of the more extended film star related memes, until on his sixth nomination, he finally got a statue for his mantelpiece.
In common with other film stars, Leo and Meryl (three wins from a record 19 nominations) display an important element of a successful meme; recognition.
Memes work because they have a shared history within a culture and, in the case of film memes, the recognisable subject matter allows them to propagate more widely. People can shortcut to the humour, because they get the premise.
Internet memes couldn’t fill that shelf in your downstairs loo though could they Leo? Not unless you printed them off and made a papier mache Oscar out of them…
Anyway. What if you wanted to use memes as a method to spread your message and reach your target audience?
Well, as Sean Bean alluded to above, it’s not as simple as taking any image and any words.
Memetic marketing, or memevertising, or memejacking, like their spiritual cousin ‘viral video’, are very imprecise methods with a limited chance of success. It’s no use setting out to create a viral video – because the viral bit is all about organic sharing, you can’t force it.
You can’t force it with memes either. Creating your own, unless you already have a huge and active following with its own distinct sub-culture, is unlikely to be a path to success. Nothing makes a digital-literate audience sigh and roll their eyes like a brand trying to artificially force its way into the memeiverse.
Then as Oscar-winner Jeff Goldblum (You didn’t know that did you? He won for a short film in 1996) so succinctly put it, your audience disappears running and, um, screaming.
One option is to jump on an existing meme bandwagon. Done right, this can be an incredibly powerful way to grab attention but, as with all band wagon jumping, it requires a certain level of finesse and agility.
If there were three rules of meme-jumping, they’d be:
1) Pick the right meme, and make sure it’s appropriate to your message and audience.
2) Do it with a self-aware wink and a nod, because the humour is the vital element.
3) Don’t pick an out of date meme and try to flog a dead horse…or else you’ll risk the ire of the internet.
That’s right. Thanks, Charlize (1 win from 2 nominations).
If you’re wondering how best to communicate with your audience, get in touch.