Emily Stonham
2nd January 2019 - 7 mins read
W

e’re a strange bunch, and it’s because of this that brands have found it so hard to market to us. How can you expect to see results from a lovingly crafted, artistic marketing campaign on TV when the height of comedy for my age group is someone doing surgery on a grape?

There’s been plenty of examples over the years of brands trying to capitalise on our strange humour, ranging from the mildly successful to the downright embarrassing. Brands using memes in marketing seems to be one of the main offenders here. If you’re not familiar with memes, Google defines them as ‘an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.’

My generation in particular (Gen Z, born from 1995 onwards) is often berated by the media for being glued to our phones. Whilst I disagree with this being true for every teenager, stereotypically it can be true for quite a few of us.

A lot of us adore social content, and would rather be on Netflix or YouTube than traditional TV channels. Memes in particular form a large part of the content of many social media platforms for my generation now, specifically Instagram, Reddit and Tumblr. Despite all this, a lot of brands seem to be missing the mark with their attempts at humorous marketing.

Here’s three of my favourite examples of corporate meme usage - good and bad - with some insights on how to use memes and modern humour to your brand’s advantage online. 

 

Denny’s Twitter Account

The American diner Denny’s has found a unique niche on Twitter. Namely, it’s one of the weirdest corporate accounts out there - and people love it. In 2013, the brand’s social media was taken over by the EP+Co agency. They had one simple aim, which was to make the brand’s social media activity not sound like a corporate account.

Fast forward to 2018, the brand is infamous for its bizarre and occasionally disturbing breakfast-themed content on a number of platforms. They’re experts at hijacking popular trends and current news and popular culture events on Twitter, such as the removal of the iPhone headphone jack.

 

 

Such is Denny’s success that they have international followers from places that don’t even have one of these restaurants. Its Twitter account even helped kickstart a new meme format a while back, by hiding a message in a pancake.

 

 

Gucci Memes

Here’s a surprising one. Out of all the brands to use memes in marketing, would you expect a luxury, high-end retailer to get involved? Not many people did, which is why these were received with gleeful concern.

Gucci created #TFWGucci (That Feeling When Gucci) to promote its new line of watches. They commissioned a number of pieces of artwork, and then had popular meme creators make content with them. The results were fairly mixed.

 

  

 

Some were pretty funny and went down well online, but others just seemed a bit odd and out of touch. Fashionista made some pretty good points in this article, mentioning how it’s strange for a large, established brand like Gucci to be making memes, as the origin of niche memes involved talking about topics like mental health - which were too taboo to talk about in mainstream media.

 

 

Overall, it was interesting but seemed a little bit out of character for such a high-status brand. To really appeal to the meme community, Gucci should have probably had a bit more existential dread

 

Wendy’s Memer Advert

This one is a little older, but it still makes my soul hurt.

When it first came out, it had people debating whether this was deliberately meant to be so terrible, in order to create hype online.

Anyone who’s been vaguely aware of memes for the last few years or so will see the glaring issues with this advert.

It’s just cringey. Plain and simple. There’s no punchline, there’s not even really an element of self-awareness – which is one of the elements that memes are normally recognised for.

This meme format with the bold white text and ‘like a boss’ arguably hasn’t been funny for a good ten years or so. It’s completely out of date, which defeats the objective of using memes (they’re topical and based heavily around online trends).  

Regardless of whether this was genuine, self-aware or an attempt at possibly creating nostalgia for meme fans, I don’t think it worked very well. It left many online viewers feeling irritated and enraged by how out of touch it was.

If the point of the advert was to get people talking about the brand (and how out of date it was), then fair play. But if the point was to make sales, I don’t think this was the best strategy as many seemed more annoyed with the brand than engaged with it.

There’s even a Reddit thread dedicated to this sort of mishap, called r/CorporateFacepalm. It’s worth checking out before you try any sort of memes out yourself – or if you just want a laugh.

There’s plenty more examples of corporate memes dotted all over the internet - some mildly funny, others just simply embarrassing.

In all seriousness though, creating memes can be a dangerous game to play when using them for advertising or marketing a brand. For example, memes can have hidden meanings or symbolisms that will be understood by people active on particular parts of social media, but skate right over the heads of corporate teams.

Pepe the frog, for example, was a very popular meme a while back.

 

 

Pepe was widely used by the media and political campaigns until he was found to have associations with the alt-right. Pepe never originally had racist associations, but it was hijacked by certain groups of people to suit their own causes.  

By the time Pepe was used in the 2016 United States presidential election campaign, he had already been branded a hate symbol. He’s now in the Anti-Defamation League’s guide to hate symbols, much to the amusement of some parts of the internet.

This happens fairly frequently, and unless you have someone working for you who spends the majority of their time looking at memes, you might accidentally post something that has horrible hidden messages associated with it. It’s a big risk to take, especially for large or well-established brands.

Another negative to using memes is how quickly they age. As I was researching for this blog, I came across a bunch of meme adverts from around 2012-2015. This article from Digiday has some good examples of what I mean- specifically, the Virgin Media one. My first reaction was that they were terrible, simply because of how outdated they automatically seemed to me.

Thinking about it, it’s quite likely that these campaigns would have been funny when the memes were on trend. They fit the meme well, and they’re not too awkward. But they seem so bad to us now because of how old the format is.

Meme trends change so quickly and so do reactions to them. In the time that it’s taken me to write this blog and get it through the editing/approval process, the ‘doing surgery on a grape’ meme I referenced in the opening paragraphs has already gone out of date and is now considered to not be funny.

If your brand is modern and has a fairly young audience, it can be a highly effective marketing strategy to use memes and edgy jokes in your content. If not, your audience may be confused by your attempt at being trendy. Bear in mind your target market, especially if you’re attempting dark humour with your campaigns.

And steer clear of using memes unless you’re absolutely certain that your audience will enjoy them, and that you understand the meme properly. It’s not worth the effort if your campaign is just going to end up being mocked on a Reddit thread.

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or an eBook.

Marketing

7 campaigns that went viral for all the wrong reasons

Aimee Hudson 2nd October 2017 — 8 mins read
A

big budget helps, great ideas are critical, but as some of the below companies found out some elements are simply outside of your control and can sometimes cause campaigns to go viral for all the wrong reasons…

 

Walkers Wave

In this campaign, fans were asked to tweet their selfies so they could feature in a short video clip in which Gary Lineker held a picture of their selfie and said “Thanks for joining the Walkers Wave and celebrating the UEFA Champions League Final.”

However, this backfired and went viral in a way Walkers probably wished it hadn’t.

The crisp producer set up an automated tweet system meaning all images were automatically submitted to show in the picture frame.

But, there was seemingly no screening or filtration process.

This meant that when members of the public started to tweet in images of people who are famous for committing crimes, the campaign quickly started to go downhill.

 

 

The campaign’s failure soon spread like wildfire through the Twittersphere and other media platforms due to the ease of sharing posts.

You can tell Walkers had good intentions and hoped the campaign would be original, convey emotions, spark interest and be easy to share.

Like any great campaign it did do this, just not in the intended way.

 

Pepsi’s advert featuring Kendall Jenner

Pepsi faced huge backlash to an advert featuring Kendall Jenner where she was seen giving police a can of Pepsi on the front line of a protest.

The advert was meant to portray a message of peace, unity and understanding but instead was criticised for trivialising social justice demonstrations.

In the advert Kendall is seen giving a police officer a can of Pepsi, he then smiles at a fellow officer as protestors cheered. 

Backlash from the advert suggested that if protestors were kinder and gave police a drink, there would be no need for social justice demonstrations.

The public mocked the campaign with key influencers like Bernice King, Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter, tweeting a picture of her father with the caption:

 

 

Pepsi’s hope of creating a campaign relating to current political events obviously fell flat. It initially defended the advert saying it “reflects people from all walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony”.

However, the backlash continued to grow, and Jenner also faced criticisms with Eric Thomas, senior partner of Saga marketing posting on LinkedIn that “A Caucasian, blonde, classically beautiful, affluent, kid born into celebrity probably isn’t the person you need to represent struggle and civil unrest”.

Pepsi finally withdrew the advert and apologised with the following statement:

 

 

Southern Rail – Let’s Strike Back

It’s not just food and drink based campaigns that can go wrong as Southern Rail found out when its Twitter campaign was derailed.

The company’s campaign asked its customers to challenge a Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) strike on Twitter.

With the headline ‘Let’s Strike Back’, the company’s initial tweet asked customers to tell the union how the rail strikes make them feel with the hashtag #SouthernBackOnTrack

 

 

But perhaps not surprisingly given the operators reputation for late, cancelled and over-crowded trains, customers used the hashtag to lambast its service.

 

 

Quickly, Southern Rail lost control of the campaign with the public creating their own, more popular hashtags including #SouthernFail.

Soon, national media picked up on the Twitter storm generating more unfavourable headlines and comments for the company.

The company initially refused to apologise for the campaign or the poor services customers had received, saying its ‘aim was to get the debate going’.

However, a month later the deputy chief operating officer of Govia Thamesline Railway, the parent company of Southern Rail, said the tweets were a “mistake.”

It’s clear to see there was little debate around the topic but more a way of customers to vent their disappointment and even anger at the brand.

 

Amazon: The Man in the High Castle

Back in 2015, Amazon’s new show ‘The Man in the High Castle’ depicted a dystopian life in which Nazi Germany and Japan have control over the US after winning World War Two.

To promote the show, Amazon decided to advertise across New York City.

The company wrapped the subway seats, walls and ceilings of one train in a version of the American flag, replacing the stars with a German eagle and iron cross. They even created a stylised flag for the ‘new Japan’.

The campaign also involved having 260 posters across the subway station.

The advertisements were due to run for 2-3 weeks until early December but were pulled hours after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called Amazon to do so.

Bill de Blasio stated that the advertisements were “irresponsible and offensive to Word War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers”.

The lesson learnt: Historical events are still sensitive even in a dystopian world.

 

Coca-Cola – GIF the Feeling

When Coca-Cola changed its tagline from ‘Open Happiness’ to ‘Taste the Feeling’, it decided to celebrate the launch with the campaign ‘GIF the Feeling’.

The idea was that the public would be able to superimpose their sentiments on a pre-created GIF.

Coca-Cola was smart and had thousands of words filtered so they couldn’t be included in the campaign including hell, fat, homosexuality, diabetes, all swear words, business, sex, drugs and more.

However the public, as menacing as they are, decided to get creative and create GIFs with the words which had not been filtered, including diarrhoea, capitalism, Benghazi and more.

It was soon clear to see Coca-Cola had lost control and the public had hijacked the campaign.

In a statement, Coca-Cola said: “Our intention was to invite consumers to share their feelings in a positive and uplifting way as they discover our new campaign. It is unfortunate that some people have chosen to use our campaign materials to do just the opposite” … “Their comments do not reflect the views of The Coca-Cola Company”.

 

Protein World - Beach Body Ready

The supplement company’s weight loss advert featured a model in a bikini with the phrase ‘Are you beach body ready?’

It was displayed all over the UK and faced huge backlash for ‘body shaming’.

Watchdog reported the campaign received almost 400 complaints. Additionally, a protest was held in London’s Hyde Park and a Change.org petition gained more than 70,000 signatures.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated it had received a range of complaints on issues including the ‘very slim, toned’ model which suggested that all other body shapes are inferior.

Protein World remained defensive and unapologetic during the backlash. It even invited the public to consider if they were in the shape they wanted to be and claimed that the campaign doesn’t imply everyone should look like the model.

After much debate over the wording the ASA initially deemed the advert did not breach any UK advertising rules relating to harm and offence or responsible advertising.

Many of the public were upset with this result and continued to campaign against the ‘beach body’ image.

However, after some further consideration ASA decided to ban the advert and ordered it to be removed.

Protein World continued to advertise with similar campaigns like ‘Think Small’.

 

Bud Light – Up For Whatever

In an effort to get everyone together for a good time, Budweiser launched its campaign ‘Up For Whatever’.

The beer company produced bottles with the following line printed on them, “The perfect beer for removing ‘No’ from your vocabulary for the night’.

This led to heavy criticism on social media with critics claiming it undermined the anti-rape “no means no” campaign in an effort to stop sexual assault.

It upset many consumers who claimed the beer’s messaging didn’t recognise that alcohol frequently plays a part in rape cases.

The initial release of the new bottles was supposedly designed to ‘inspire spontaneous fun’.

Soon after, Budweiser admitted it had ‘missed the mark’. It said: “We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behaviour”.

However, a longer statement was issued by owner Alexander Lambrecht who said: “The Bud Up For Whatever campaign, now in its second year, has inspired millions of consumers to engage with our brand in a positive and light-hearted way. In the spirit, we created more than 140 different scroll messages intended to encourage spontaneous fun. It’s clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it.”

 

 

While all these campaigns certainly succeeded in becoming part of the conversation, it came at the cost of damage to the reputation of the brands involved. And they show how a few simple errors, or a poorly thought out idea, can quickly turn something with good intentions into something hugely negative. Going viral is clearly not always a good thing.

At Thirty Seven, we offer content marketing services and ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures our content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement for all the right reasons.

Adam Fisher
29th January 2018 - 3 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

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