The following is a guest post from Adnan Bashir, senior manager for global corporate communications at Hansen Technologies. Opinions are the author's own.
A couple of days ago, as with most mornings, I checked my phone over breakfast to catch up on the most recent news, social media updates and messages from family and friends. Right on cue, I was served my daily dose of Bernie Sanders memes, courtesy of more WhatsApp and Instagram groups than I care to count. One of them showed a digitally cropped Bernie standing alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a nationally televised press conference. Another one had Bernie on the album cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours." I'm sure this scenario will be familiar to many. While being bombarded with memes is something I've experienced for years now, I can't deny that there has been a marked uptick since April 2020.
The "memeification" of our popular discourse, while enrapturing, does not represent anything new or groundbreaking. I'm sure many of us can vividly recall the proliferation of popular memes such as Philosoraptor, Success Kid, Be Like Bill, Good Guy Greg, First World Problems and many others years ago, or even back to when Facebook and Twitter were just taking off. These days, we see the prevalence of ever more witty memes, with iconic moments from every aspect of pop culture being immortalized for posterity, spreading like wildfire over social networks, messaging apps and online forums — and 2020 certainly provided no dearth of material to work with.
What is relatively new, however, is how memes are now being actively tapped as a mode of conversation by more traditional entities. Now this might surprise you, in case you missed it: in September 2020, Bud Light Seltzer announced it sought a chief meme officer. A three-month role for nothing more than conceptualizing memes to endear the company to a wider audience. Interesting to see how far the phenomenon has progressed, isn't it?
Prior to this, during the 2019-2020 Democratic presidential primaries, the usually staid Michael Bloomberg was the only candidate who implemented a dedicated meme operation. Granted, it did not get him to where he ultimately wanted to be, but it played a major role in generating the word-of-mouth and media chatter that his campaign desperately needed. Just do an online search for media coverage and chances are you came across a Michael Bloomberg meme at some point during the first quarter of 2020.
Let us examine where we are today: Our current reality is one where a large segment of the populace will continue to work and study from home for much of 2021. As such, a plethora of smart devices are their first port of call when it comes to any form of entertainment and commerce. Smartphone usage has increased exponentially. Social media usage has spiked. Streaming services are seeing more business than ever before. At the same time, a 5G and Internet of Things ecosystem is crystallizing before our very eyes, enhancing technological capabilities and our online experience, as well as proving to be a boon for video content and AR/VR consumption. Add to this the continued empowerment of the TikTok and Instagram generation, and shareability and virality of content might just be what brands need to strongly consider in what might yet prove to be another challenging year ahead.
These ingredients provide nothing short of a recipe for success, and there could not be a more perfect environment for meme culture to thrive in.
Let us also not be quick to forget that one of the biggest factors behind Quibi's high-profile failure was the lack of an actual social sharing function within the platform. Imagine that, in the year 2020.
At a time when a large swath of the general populace operates on some form of smart device, isn't the formal induction of a chief meme officer by companies long overdue? The time is certainly ripe for a bold move like this. Considering the prevailing circumstances around the world, brands are in the midst of a prime opportunity to accelerate engagement with their target audiences. As markets become increasingly saturated, and more and more brands compete aggressively for share of voice, there might be no better way to grab a slice of the pie.
This could even herald a future where meme marketing becomes a primary tool in the arsenal of influence campaigns. Michael Bloomberg and Bud Light Seltzer certainly don't seem to have downplayed its importance.
In a profession where there seems to be no paucity of voices preaching boldness, innovation, creativity and thinking outside the box when it comes to marketing, assigning a full-time leader with responsibility for meme marketing might just be a step in the right direction. In fact, I would go a step further and ask why this hasn't been done already.