February 15, 2024

Meme marketing: The digital age’s low-effort, high-impact gift to marketers

Migi Santico
Photos by
Illustrations by

From the first generation of derps and derpinas, fist pump babies, and interrupting Kanye’s to today’s Will Smith slaps, crypto crash dippity-dips, and Wordle, internet memes have flooded the worldwide web and they are here to stay. They’ve come a long way from less dominant meme-sharing or community-based platforms like 9GAG and Reddit, now populating a good chunk of real estate on the globe’s mainstream social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In 2020 alone, Instagram saw over 1 million memes shared every day. YPulse’s 2019 survey also found that 38% of young adults follow meme accounts on social media, and that almost 55% of 13-35 year old consumers send memes every week.

Typically composed of text, graphics, and photos or videos, memes are a versatile form of media that serve as a source of entertainment on the internet. But their value goes beyond mere laughs. They’re a medium for people to relate with one another and express everything from humor to frustration, and even a wholesome message of care for a random stranger scrolling through the web.

“Memes have the power to generate likes and shares all while being inexpensive and low effort. More than that, their greatest value is in humanizing brands and developing a sense of community.”

In a finding by NYU Dispatch in 2020, memes greatly outperform traditional marketing graphics when it comes to organic engagement, boasting a reach over 10 times higher at 60%. They’re the funner, easygoing yet high-achieving cousin of the usual graphic ads. Though marketers have long been hitting objectives with different tools, like a compelling brand story that generates brand love or killer promos that keep conversions rolling, memes penetrate markets through a unique path: lightheartedness, humor, and genuine connection.

The relational capacity of memes gives brands an opportunity to build camaraderie with their audiences. It fosters a sense of belongingness; of being one with the community, which is one of consumers’ biggest boxes to check. Perhaps it’s apt to say that brands who make or share memes have a sort of kinship with most social media users.

Your favorite meme lord brand on two wheels

Some local brands have built their brand presence entirely around memes. Angkas, the Philippines’ leading motorcycle ride-sharing service is a master of the meme scene. From adopting and recreating existing memes to creating their own all while staying in tune with what’s relevant, the brand has effectively humanized and established itself as one of the people.

With that said, staying relevant shouldn’t compromise brand identity. To separate themselves from the competition, these brands also stray true to their voice and tone when making memes.”

On the surface, it may seem like hardly any work, but there is a lot of research that goes into studying an audience. Angkas thinks, speaks, and behaves in a particular way, and it’s precisely because they’ve studied their audience’s values and interests. At times, they even poke fun at themselves, making memes out of the minor, mildly inconvenient issues that their patrons might experience with their services.

Other than knowing an audience inside and out, great meme marketing entails being relevant by keeping your ear to the ground. As with successful marketing, staying abreast of the latest happenings is part and parcel of speaking your audience’s language. Knowing the pulse, like what audiences are talking about and which memes are currently popular, ensures that your content is relevant.

This promo is Angkas’ version of the Vin Diesel meme, which gained huge popularity during the pandemic.

With that said, staying relevant shouldn’t compromise brand identity. To separate themselves from the competition, these brands also stray true to their voice and tone when making memes. The nature of memes, which have a format that’s easily editable, makes this simple to do. They can edit a photo, video, or the text of either media and send their own message, with their own branding. In the case of Angkas, they gained a ton of traction with 10,000 likes, almost 500 comments and 3,100 shares, when they adopted the Vin Diesel meme and made it their own.

Fighting 99.9% of bacteria with memes

Safeguard, a well-loved antibacterial Filipino soap brand, also utilized this when they took the Drake Hotline Bling meme and placed their Fred D’ Germ character on it. As part of a larger campaign effort during the pandemic that urged people to wash their hands, they did a series of satirical memes joking about the tendency to be lazy when it comes to washing hands.

Fred D’ Germ replacing Drake, being appalled by the hygienic thing to do, and pointing in approval to what Safeguard imagines a bacteria would do.

At once and without needing a big budget, the brand was able to bolster their campaign, drive value to their product, and create an affinity to their brand. Though the memes didn’t exactly go viral, it garnered a good number of reactions on social media and made an impact on those who saw them.

The series was an example that meme marketing, and even memes themselves, are not just a means to virality. They’re a versatile tool in your marketing strategy that can be used for a number of objectives from supporting a campaign to giving customers a little extra push online to close on conversions.

The Philippines’ budol best friend

With buzz phrases like “checkout”, “add to cart”, and “budol” associated with their brand marketing campaigns, Shopee Philippines does a good job of both driving traffic to their campaigns and ensuring conversions. More than the memes they make and share when they have their monthly sales, they also make it a point to respond to their patrons on social media with memes. In both situations, the brand’s lovable personality is on full display: your irresistible enabler best friend. This reply to a tweet from a shopper who was begging the brand to stop giving him so many perks is a perfect example of that:

In these interactions, Shopee’s responses get love from patrons, with some reacting, “Yes, I’ve checked out already!”
In another Shopee-shopaholic Twitter exchange, the brand gives a shopper a literal sign to enter a raffle using the Spongebob rainbow meme.

Shopee’s playful, perfectly-timed, and well-executed memes have kept shopaholics loyal. They’ve been able to drive awareness for their sales, cultivate community, and see interest all the way through to conversions.

Whether it’s brand building, campaign materials, sales promotions, or audience engagement, these three brands demonstrate what being fluent in your audience’s language can do. Specifically, knowing memes and the principles of how to use them: utilizing relevant and trending memes, injecting your brand’s unique humor into it, and interacting with your audience, among others.

Memes have the power to generate likes and shares all while being inexpensive and low effort. More than that, their greatest value is in humanizing brands and developing a sense of community. They foster a deep sense of familiarity and trust for its consumers. Thanks to their use of memes, brands like Angkas, Shopee and Safeguard have become well-loved by the Filipino consumer precisely because they almost feel like friends.