Here at Hook Research we’re fascinated by the evolution of language and the myriad different ways people of all ages are communicating in 2018.

In the past 10 years emojis, hashtags, acronyms and memes have become key methods of expression, and slang and shortcuts are now fundamental to the way millennials communicate with one another.

Hook’s recent research has identified memes as an especially effective tool for:
(i) encapsulating a group of peoples’ thoughts about a specific topic
(ii) offering a visual short-hand which lets individuals express emotion without the need for words

Memes work at both an individual and a brand level, delivering a medium through which brands can latch onto conversation topics and themes different groups are talking about. I thought I’d take a moment here to explore these cultural artifacts and the ever-shifting communications landscape within which they reside.

What is a meme?

So what is a meme anyway?

While the strict historical definition of meme is as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” – a meme has taken on a life of its own in the internet age.

In common parlance, referring to a meme today means talking about an image or string of images overlaid with text. Each image has an associated format, which is manipulated by users for humorous intent. In a way, it’s the modern equivalent of a knock-knock joke: there’s an expected setup for each meme (‘knock knock – who’s there’), but they really stand out when users play around with the delivery

Even the least savvy internet user will have seen one or two memes in their time – whether that’s a classic Grumpy Cat or Success Kid meme, or the relatively recent Distracted Boyfriend meme.

The evolving face of communication

Memes are just the latest stage in a rapid evolution of the way we communicate with one another. In the last 10 years we have seen a range of communication platforms come into being: Myspace (2003); Facebook (2004); Twitter (2006); Whatsapp (2009); Instagram (2010); Snapchat (2011), and now group video chat apps like HouseParty. Add to these Vines (RIP), Yik-Yak, emojis, GIF keyboards and stickers and what you see is the communication world turned upside down.

Although at heart these platforms and tools are old wine in new bottles – pictures and words in boxes – they each have a distinct accent and cultural context that builds on each other. As Derek Thompson says in Hit Makers – they each are “a fashionable improvement or purposeful divergence from the previous dominant [form of communication]”.

In other words, we’ve come a long way from just having a chat with each other.

These rapid changes have altered the fundamental ways that we exchange information. Communication and methods of communication have turned into an FMCG product that changes with the seasons. What was effective and cool 6 months ago has no guarantee of lasting in this era of rapid communication change.

Communication as fashion is here and the strategies of companies have to reflect this.

Brands using memes

We’ve seen a number of brands using memes as another tool in their social media toolbox.

Recently, Gucci used memes to help promote its ‘Le Marché des Merveilles’ watches. The #TWFGucci campaign asked artists to adapt popular memes to feature their watches. For a high end brand like Gucci it felt like a fresh interesting approach.

Frequent users of the Tube in London might also be aware of Netflix’s integration of memes into its own campaigns. The brand combined images from its successful Narcos series with traditional meme formats to create amusing, relatable ads.

It’s not just adult brands using memes as part of their marketing strategy. One of our youth clients, Nickelodeon, also uses memes to create content and promote its TV schedule on Twitter and Instagram. By using everyday topics for both children (and parents in the case of Nick Jr) – the family of Nick channels can show that it understands the reality of family life (both from a parent’s perspective and from a child’s perspective)

However, care must be taken to ensure that these memes land…

We’ve all seen examples of brands who have tried to immerse themselves into the rapidly rushing stream of ‘trendy’ youth speak, only to produce tone-deaf or cliched content that fails to connect. This subreddit has a number of great examples of content that jars with its youth audiences (be warned: some of these posts aren’t exactly safe for work…)

There’s a fine line between brands using memes that tap into the zeitgeist, and ones that come across as just a bit out of touch… so how can brands make sure they fall into the former camp?

Tracking changes in a fluctuating world

It’s clear that we’re living in exciting linguistic times and although we can’t guess how communication will change in the near future, we can be fairly confident that the changes will keep coming.

The ways that young people communicate are constantly changing, and researchers need to be equally nimble to keep up and advise brands using memes as part of their content strategy. That’s why at Hook we’re constantly speaking with young people to assess their needs, and how they are adapting to find more convenient, cooler and modern ways of saying hello.

Want to learn more about the latest trends and developments in the kids space? Get in touch – we’d love to take you out for a coffee and a chat!

Author Nick

Nick has been helping media brands – both client and agency side – for over 20 years. He is particularly interested in getting to know respondents’ real worlds by developing methods to gain deeper, more useful insights.

More posts by Nick
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