How to Use Memes in Advertising

Step 1)    don’t.


Memes are close to the hearts of every Millennial. I would argue it might be a defining feature of our generation. And for some reason, every burnt out creative director and know-it-all CEO wants to use the format to reach us. But here’s the problem: it never works. This Wendy’s ad caused a fair amount of internet outrage for its tone-deaf approach to meme culture, which is disappointing for a brand that’s mastered social media.

This isn’t to say that memes can’t be effective tools in advertising. There is one especially impactful way to create a viral hit— and that’s not trying at all. I think this is largely because of the nature of memes. Memes aren’t created, they’re born. Anyone trying to make one, especially to benefit a business, is almost sure to fail. But when a brand births a meme by accident? That’s an opportunity unlike any other. The marketing team behind  Game of War: Fire Age stumbled on a gold mine with their ad featuring TheLegend27.

TheLegend27 quickly rose the ranks of internet memedom after picking up speed on internet forums like Reddit, 4chan, and even a fair few parody videos across YouTube. It spawned countless copycats across gaming platforms from users impersonating TheLegend27. This is an important case study because like most other memes it was never intended to be one. It wasn’t the will of a boardroom or creative agency. The internet got to decide. And it always will.

So to those creatives and businesses looking to tap into a millennial market I encourage you to stop trying so hard. A poor, unauthentic execution is going to be a detriment to whatever message you’re trying to share. The internet, after all, is battle-hardened to bamboozling. Yes, make something funny, make something shareable, and make something creative. But please, for the love of Jon Postel, do not go looking for a viral hit. If you do, you’ve already lost. And the internet will respond in kind.


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