Internet Marketing Tips | What is a Meme?

August 6, 2013 / by Paige Gilbert

grumpy cat memeThe other day at our staff barbecue the topic of memes came up. Yes, we’re internet marketing geeks and talk about things like memes at our get-togethers. The question was posed: what is a meme? You know what? I'm ashamed to admit that I couldn’t really define it, at least not clearly and neither could anyone else! So of course I had to do a little research to find out exactly what does qualify as a meme. If you’re in the habit of reading our internet marketing tips, or you aren’t at all and just want to know what a meme is, I am passing my new-found knowledge onto you.


How do you pronounce it?


First let’s clarify how to say the word “meme.” It’s not “me-me” like Mariah Carey’s nickname. Meme is pronounced with a long “E” and rhymes with “theme.” Listen to this:  



What is a meme?


According to Merriam-Webster the definition of a meme is: “an idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.”  In today’s world of internet marketing a meme can be an image, video, link, hashtag, or simply a word or phrase. Successful memes spread like wildfire over the internet, increasing in popularity and putting the “viral” in viral video. The term comes from the Greek word “mimeme” which means “imitated thing.” You know, it’s probably easier to just show you.


Popular Memes


Before internet marketing became internet marketing, there were two popular memes sent via email chains way back in 1996. One was called the Dancing Baby and was later featured on the TV show “Ally McBeal.” The Dancing Hamster also became popular in the late 90’s.



In more recent years it seems that a new pops up almost daily. Are you familiar with Gangnam Style or the Harlem Shake? How about the most interesting man in the world or Grumpy Cat?


We could look at popular memes all day long. But since we’re supposed to be giving internet marketing tips instead, we’ll let you take a look at this infographic and move on to what memes mean for your business strategy.


Jumping on the bandwagon - er- memewagon?


Okay, so maybe I just tried to coin the term memewagon. Somehow I don’t think it will catch on. That’s the thing with memes. Some just work and some don’t. It’s hard to predict which ones will go down in history as the best memes ever and which ones will be epic fails, which is why your company has to be careful when deciding which memes to leverage in your internet marketing strategy.


When done correctly your company could experience some great benefits like a boost in website traffic, a temporary increase in interest of a product or service, or be seen as hip and cool among your target market. It could also backfire if you just look silly capitalizing on the meme, turning customers away because they see you as socially inept and outright ridiculous. So how might you effectively use a meme?


  • Create your own version of a popular meme like Virgin did with the “Success Kid” meme.
  • Release your own company version of a popular video, like your staff doing Gangnam Style.

  • Invent your own video or image meme – easier said than done! Many businesses have spent too much time and money trying to do this. Why bother?
  • Act fast – memes don’t live long, so if you’re going to try to make it a part of your marketing efforts, pay attention to trends and do it quickly!
  • Be sensitive – memes are intended for a quick reaction, whether it be laughter, warm fuzzies or shock, so make sure you do a little bit of research and find out the context and meaning behind the original meme. You don’t want to risk offending your target audience.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – remember, it can sometimes be beneficial to capitalize on a meme but it’s not a solid internet marketing strategy in and of itself. It has a time place.


Hopfully you now have a little bit of background and more understanding of what a meme is. I know I do. And just for the record, even though us marketing geeks talk about things like memes at our get-togethers, we also talk about visiting the Guiness Factory in Ireland and how much we love Ruffles and onion dip. Besides, if we didn’t talk about memes then we wouldn’t have stellar internet marketing tips for you today.

Want to learn about 101 memes? Sing The Meme Song!

What’s your favorite meme?

[Image Source: Grumpy Cat]

Topics: Internet marketing, Social Media

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