Internet memes [mēm] are often silly ephemeral fads, absurdist one-hit wonders that burn brightly for an instant, then fade from the popular consciousness as quickly as they arrived. Many of them have little value beyond a 2-second chuckle, flashing across short attention spans and disappearing from browser tabs in the blink of an eye.
From the Dancing Baby, to the hoard of Lolcats, from Double Rainbow through to Forever Alone, memes have become part of the Internet lexicon, be they images, animated GIFs, full-blown videos or merely turns of speech.
Broken down to their most basic elements, memes are infectious ideas and, as such, are the perfect vehicle for marketing messages and audience engagement. If they’re done right, that is. What separates the ones that explode across the internet from those that lurk in obscurity? Let’s discover the secret to crafting killer memes…
What Makes a Meme Popular?
Some people may say that the inner-workings of memes simply can’t be understood; people just get lucky sometimes, and the popularity of a meme is just a random occurrence. But that would be like saying that writing a great hit song is just dumb luck – try telling that to Paul McCartney, Max Martin or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers!
The fact is, there are patterns to popular memes that can be studied, understood and repeated. While it may not be an exact science, there are some commonly agreed upon components of a meme you can use to increase its chances of becoming popular:
- Easy to grasp (It can be understood or summarized quickly and easily)
- Shareable (There is little to no friction in the sharing process)
- Easy to replicate (It can be parodied and/or remixed easily)
- Resonates with a community (Linked to or referencing common themes)
Vintage Meme – Dancing Baby
Dancing Baby is one of the earliest Internet memes, becoming a phenomenon in the late 90′s. The famous viral animation began life as a demonstration of the animation software ‘Character Studio’ (3D Studio Max), but soon spread across the internet and entered the mainstream when it was featured in the hit show Ally McBeal.
Popular Meme Types
There are several types of memes (Text-based memes, Image Macros, Rage Comics, Animated GIFs, Supercuts and other Video memes) each with their own level of complexity. Some of them can be created in minutes, while others can take weeks. Ironically, text-based memes are the simplest format, yet the most difficult to create deliberately – they are generally spontaneous moments or esoteric references to subcultures that catch on.
On the other hand, Supercuts can take weeks of editing, but when done well, will almost always find an audience of thousands. Following is a perfect example of a successful Supercut meme. I guarantee you can’t watch the full 2 minutes and 9 seconds without laughing!
Getting Started Crafting Your Own Killer Memes
Since the process of creating a completely original meme can be hit and miss (and very much dependent on context) a less risky way of creating killer memes can be to reuse popular examples and apply them to your industry.
There is also the practice called ‘Snowcloning‘ – using a phrasal template that can be reused in a variety of situations (X is the new Y, I’m not an X but I play one on TV, etc). You can remix popular image memes using an image editor or an online meme generator such as Mememaker or Diylol.
I recommend doing it yourself so you won’t have to worry about watermarks or embedded codes. You can even take it one step further by using image subscription services like Fotolia, Shutterstock or iStockPhoto in order to find unique images for new memes.
You probably won’t create the next killer meme overnight, and that’s OK. Begin by making your own version of the most current memes and make them relevant to your industry. Share them with your colleagues or on your personal social media accounts and measure the responses that you’re getting.
There’s no need to be afraid of ‘failing’ – no one needs to know that you’re the one creating the memes at the moment!
How To Make Sure You Get The Backlinks
While you should be sharing your newly created memes on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon etc, these can gain you attention but no backlinks. If you’re just looking for engagement with your audience that might be enough, but if you’re looking for backlinks with some SEO effects then you’ll want to submit a link to your meme on Reddit and/or create a Tumblr blog.
If you begin by creating video memes, then add them to YouTube and Daily Motion, as you can add no-follows in your profile and still drive traffic to your web property.
Internet Memes Explained Through Hipster Ariel
Here is a great little SlideShare presentation explaining the inner workings of a meme.
Warning: Handle Memes With Care
The most popular memes tend to originate on forums and message boards like Reddit and 4Chan where they are ‘battle-tested’ by the ‘heavy users’ before being spread throughout the rest of the Internet.
Popular memes have a life-cycle, and trying to jump on the bandwagon too late can actually have a negative effect (just think of mainstream ads that started to use rap music in the 90’s).
In the context of social media and small-to-medium sized brands, the trick is to catch the wave early on – by the time it’s circulating on Facebook or being mentioned on popular TV shows, it’s too late.
To make sure that you’re not late to the party, it’s worthwhile keeping track of some of the major sources of new memes (the aforementioned Reddit and 4Chan for instance) to see what’s being created and shared. Make sure that you look at some of the dialogue surrounding the memes to ensure that you’re using it in the right way – the only thing worse than using a meme 3 months too late is using a meme in the wrong context.
You’ve been warned!
Classic Video Meme – Hitler’s Downfall
Hitler’s Downfall meme video series has become a classic on YouTube. There are literally hundreds of different versions in several languages. These video memes are all based on the 2004 German movie, Der Untergang (Downfall) directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler’s reign of Nazi Germany in 1945.
The Hitler Downfall meme is applied to a wide variety of situations where a mistake has been made, a product pulled or a loss incurred – the funny part is that Hitler becomes enraged by petty topics and trivial gossip. Here is a good example:
If you feel creative and want to make your very own Hitler video meme, you can do that here: http://downfall.jfedor.org/create/
Get Your Meme On
The best way to start crafting killer memes is to get going and start practising. Don’t worry about creating the next Hipster Ariel, Dancing Baby or Boromir Simply meme, just have fun and think about ways that you can apply popular memes to your industry. Soon enough you’ll have a few hits on your hand and have your competitors shouting Ermahgerd!
Have You Delved Into The World Of Memes With Your Social Media Campaigns?
Do you have any success stories to share? Let us know your experiences in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you!