Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Meme is over? Coopting Viral Memes for Marketing

Internet memes are fun. Yet there is a shelf-life to memes. They are inside jokes that we share with friends, but they lose their charm after a while. The charm usually begins to fade when everybody tells the same joke. It's not funny anymore, it no longer provides a that same sense of community. This mainstreaming of the joke usually coincides with advertisers jumping on the bandwagon and trying to capitalize on the popularity. After that, its a downhill slide into the oblivion of the pop culture trash heap.

When I first saw this, I thought it was genius. Two clever blokes had created their own rocket to launch mediocre alcoholic beverages into space. It seemed to be the next logical step in our exploration of the final frontier. Brilliant! However, I soon discovered that this was not the case. In fact, this is an "earned" media campaign dreamed up by the good people at Anheuser-Busch.

Before I get into my thoughts on this, let me just clarify the idea of "earned" media. Essentially, this concept refers to advertising that is shared either virally or through the newsmedia, not through traditional paid advertising slots during commercial breaks.

This appears to be a growing trend in low quality alcohol marketing as video of guys "icing" each other with Smirnoff Ice also made national headlines and was described as "the nation's biggest viral drinking game." Though Smirnoff denied involvement in this viral meme (perhaps because it encourages immoderate drinking), questions still exist as to the truth of this claim.

Why is internet meme-ing becoming the marketing campaign of choice? The target audience for these beverages, college age men, are spending increasing portions of their day on social networks and they are more likely to be exposed to advertising on facebook, than on tv.

We heard in a group presentation in class this semester about how advertising firms are using these sorts of techniques on children, but the range of target audiences exists at all ages. Companies are banking on our networks to build awareness for their product and inspire people to buy into them and share the experience.

Don't be surprised to see a kitten standing on its hind legs and drinking from an open bottle of Colt45 the next time you log into lolcats.com, and if so, does that signal the end of memery as we know it? Will tumblr sites go the way of other pop culture icons?

Not to negate the rest of this post, but probably not. (no fear cat lovers, your precious lolcats are most likely safe). However, it does have lasting implications regarding the nature of communications in the 21st century, the power of networks, and how we create and project our own interpretations of our individuality. Will this affect what you post on your social pages in future? Will you consider the source of an item more closely before you share it with your friends? Or is this a big deal outta nothing?


  1. Evan
    I think meme's are here to stay. I think this video even if produced by Natty doesn't make any less interesting, yea maybe it's a hit ti their authenticity but it's not as if meme's have any standards. I think the magic of meme's is that you never know what is going to take off. The space beer could of been a failure just as easily as it flourished, thats why they are such a risk for advertisers.

  2. I must agree with Ginnie. Initially, what makes memes popular is not necessarily the content itself or the intention, but how people react to them. Also, one of the things that make memes effective is that they will usually reach us thanks to our friends or people within our networks. There's an origin that's very far away from us, and we rarely know what it is (that sounds all philosophical).

    However, I do agree that in specific cases once it has reached popularity, a manufactured origin, like a marketing campaign, might diminish its popularity.

  3. Evan,

    I think menes will last through the generation simply because it's a necessary component of the earned media strategy. Not only the content easy to produce, but it's a less expensive option for the producer and the company. I think with any marketing endeavor , there must be room for calculated risks. This digital generation that thrives on new media will not respond the same way to more traditional outlets. Our social media mediums have embraced an idea of sharing and public discourse. Therefore, Internet me- meing will have some success because Facebook and Twitter posts can be open to public, which usually drives attention to the advertisements and messages that are being consumed by those in your friends list. Memetic marketing is a tool that will be successful just as long as it capitalizes on current trends in society.