Count this as something I never thought I'd do - present to my fellow Cigna colleagues about memes! For my June 3rd Toastmasters meeting, I was tasked with researching a subject and presenting my findings in a 5-7 minute speech. I thought, why not break up the workweek with something fun - and educational!
A Deep Dive into Memes
For today’s presentation, my task was to research a certain topic and present a summary on this topic, leaving the audience with a few easily digestible takeaways.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to present on, and finally was able to settle on something I am really passionate about:
I didn’t originally plan on talking about memes for this presentation. But, I recently realized that these are a big part of my life outside of Cigna. I communicate primarily in memes with my friends, and it’s the thing I am most likely scrolling through on my phone when I want a few moments to decompress.
In this speech, I will touch upon three things:
What Are Memes?
So, what are memes? I’d like to provide some history and context. The word “meme” came from the field of evolutionary biology - specifically, from Richard Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene. There are different interpretations of what Dawkins really meant by this term, but the Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as a “unit of cultural information spread by imitation”. And while I think many things could technically classify as a “meme”, on the internet it’s usually one of two things: a funny image that someone shares as a reaction to something, or a funny image that takes one of the original funny images and messes with it a little. A bit of meta-humor, if you will.
Memes & Marketing
Memes also fascinate me as a marketer because of their interesting relationship with marketing and advertising.
Many companies today who are trying to relate to the “youth” (millenials, or more accurately, generations Z and Alpha) often leverage memes in marketing to gain new social media followers or make a statement about their brand, but it can often backfire. There are a lot of great examples of advertising gone bad, but I’ll just highlight one of my favorites that I found in a Daily Dot article: Kia's 2012 meme-generator contest.
Kia partnered with Cheezburger.com - a popular meme site - to have users caption 10 Kia ads using popular meme templates, and all submissions would be voted on through the Cheezburger website. Safe to say - this bombed spectacularly. No one seemed to think any of the ads were particularly funny, and eventually users were just creating “anti-memes” (shown here) to illustrate how bad they thought the whole ad campaign was. Eventually, this was hailed by marketers as an example of what NOT to do when trying to leverage internet culture in advertising.
While most organizations look ridiculous when they are intentionally using memes in advertising - many memes today actually come from marketing.
I’ll highlight two examples from an Adweek article that interviewed the creators of a few of these ads.
Lipton Tea brought in Kermit from the Muppets for a commercial that aired during the Oscars in March 2014. The advertising team chose Kermit to try to bring a youthful air to the idea of drinking black tea, and this also fell in line perfectly with promotions for the Muppets Most Wanted movie coming out in theaters that same month. The image of Kermit serenely sipping tea became the “But That’s None of my Business” meme, a way to share a controversial opinion or “throw shade” on something. The rise of this meme is also interesting because it was a sign that drag queen and drag slang was becoming more popular - “tea” was a drag phrase for gossip, and so this meme would be a little difficult to understand without that further context.
Another popular meme came from a 2010 El Paso ad for their new taco pack of soft and hard tacos. A town wonders what to do about taco night, and if they should choose soft or hard tacos; a little girl answers “Por que no los dos?” (Why not both?). The screencap of her saying that becomes the immediate choice when someone is trying to say they’re having trouble choosing, or as a sillier response when both choices are clearly bad. This meme is one of those that isn’t usually modified in any way, but shared as-is - so, if you’re trying to introduce your friends to memes, this is probably a good one to start them off with.
When Memes Aren’t Funny
Memes, like many things, also have a dark side. While they’re generally thought of as silly and lighthearted, they can often be used for dark purposes - such as showing alliance with a hate group.
One example of this is the Pepe the Frog meme; this and other memes are discussed in full by the Southern Poverty Law Center in a 2016 post on their “Hatewatch” blog. These memes aren’t meant to be funny, really, but to help discreetly show support of and possibly even membership in white nationalist and alt-right hate groups. I thought it was important to bring this up in light of recent events; awareness of these type of memes can help all of us make better choices when we see others sharing this content.
Obviously, this presentation was (mostly) supposed to be funny. However, I hope this was educational as well and showed some of the complexities of meme culture.