Brands, read this before jumping on the latest meme trend

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the return of ‘Hide The Pain Harold’ and the rise of a new meme, ‘girl explaining’ (below), which is quickly making its way around social. Here, Wunderman Thompson’s Rebecca Pinn explains how advertisers can be creative with meme culture without being flippant.

Just when you thought ‘Hide the Pain Harold’ had forced his last smile, he’s back – this time in a series of digital video ads for Vodafone Italia, where we learn that winning a brand new electric Mini has inspired him. approx.

‘Hide the Pain Harold’, for the uninitiated, is a meme based on a series of stock photography shots of an old man whose genial smile isn’t enough to mask the sadness in his eyes.


Will Brands Jump on the ‘Girl Explained’ Meme?

Well, he’s left stock image libraries, gone viral on social media and is now the face of many advertising campaigns – from second-hand car dealerships to a British student discount scheme to, appropriately enough, the Hungarian version of the Samaritans (András Arató, the real Harold, lives in Budapest). .

Spicing up your ad game with meme content is nothing new, with the ‘Success Kid’ appearing on billboards a decade ago telling us how thrilled his *check notes* parents were to access HD channels on Virgin Media at no extra charge.

Vodafone Mem

(There are no points for guessing who changed their t-shirt from green to red.)

But as the volume and speed at which memes spread only increases, many marketers are faced with the decision of whether memes will deliver the hilarious/relatable/centered culture results they’re looking for. Or they’ll just make consumers cringe.

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Let’s be honest. When brands get it right it works. But when they get it wrong – oh. So let’s break it down by looking at some of the highs and lows of memes in advertising, and what the success stories have in common.

Understanding the audience better, one meme at a time

As for memes, memes have become human truths in images. Their ability to distill complex emotional ideas into a single message means they are almost pure forms of insight.

Spotting wild memes in their natural habitat can give you a week-long focus group. Looking at patterns of how people are meme-ing about a certain topic (I checked, that’s a real word) can serve as a strategic shortcut, as well as providing inspiration for creative minds.

How far a brand taps into this direct source of insight is up to them. Bumble tapped into the online rhetoric and meme-sharing around the often unpredictable world of online dating, using it to inform a unique, relevant and playful tone of voice that has gone down a storm with its millennial users.

Unfortunately, just because your target base is using a meme doesn’t mean a brand has to – the commoditization of Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Hot Girl Summer’ trend by brands including Wendy’s, Forever 21 and Maybelline is an infamous accident.

I hate to break it to you, but your lemonade is not the ‘Official Drink of Hot Girl Summer’.

Making your brand a meme

A great social media team will naturally be inundated with all the news, controversies and jokes setting feeds at any moment of the work week. Instead of constantly trying to start a conversation about your brand, piggybacking on something that’s already been said at the right time can take you from 10 likes to 10,000.

KitKat hero

Draw the scene. Kourtney Kardashian gets a big basket of four-toed KitKats. Just wrong. And thousands of people are in an uproar on social media about the ‘correct’ way to eat one. So, what does the brand do? It’s not embarrassing; This further fuels the debate.

Becoming a meme is, in theory, the kind of moment that brand managers dream about—it demonstrates talkability, your brand’s iconicity, and that you’ve built an authentic connection with people.

Kit Kat

You never know how far being a meme can take you. For KitKat, it was prime time breakfast TV. Yum.

Mainstreaming memes in advertising

How a brand chooses to reflect memes in its creative output is a delicate balancing act. Get it right and you’ll be doing what memes were always intended to do, providing entertaining moments – thanks to Sony Pictures for embracing the Spiderman pointing meme with a fan-pleasing joke.

More elaborate than a simple social post, some brands can promote it, like Vodafone did with ‘Hide The Pain Harold’. I personally like it – whether you know Harold or not, the facial expression that made him famous is the emotion Vodafone is trying to convey.

However, I have to question whether Vodafone played it safe and didn’t keep up with the originality – Harold first came on the scene in 2011… Something so popular at the moment might have had a lot of impact, but would come with a high risk that the two week time there There will be a new meme-of-the-month. But most of the time, the worst result is meme creative drowning without a trace.

In conclusion

Meme culture is fantastic, fun, easily digestible and offers some surprising insights into how people feel about life. Its meteoric rise to inevitability in our social feeds can teach us advertisers a lot.

And it looks like it’s here to stay. So instead of being stuck with ‘old hat’ technology for fear of moving with the times, we should embrace it. After all, the fire is burning itself.

But be careful. There is a temptation, as memes are always evolving, to react and use them without proper consideration for audience and long-term brand ambitions. What may seem like low-hanging viral fruit can break your brand and cause irreparable damage.

Yes, ‘let’s do a meme’ should never be the starting point of a conversation. But one reason can start a conversation.

Rebecca Pinn is a senior planner at Wunderman Thompson.

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