The tend to dominate social life,” (Coker, 2008).

The concept of ‘meme’ was first introduced by Richard Dawkins in 1976 in his book TheSelfish Gene. In his writing he uses the idea of evolution as a competition between genes as away of explaining our own growth as people. Evolution is based on survival of the fittest; thisonly really covers the area of physical traits and abilities. The term meme is meant to be theintellectual counterpart to the gene’s passing of traits. What has set humans apart from otheranimals other than the many obvious abilities is that of imitation (Blackmore, 1999).2Humans learn though mimicking other humans, from this the theory of memetics has grown. Intheory everything we pick up from culture is considered a meme such as a song, fashion trends,even a handshake is considered as a meme in that it is something we see day to day and iteventually comes to be a part of our own lives (Blackmore, 1999; Yufan & Ardley, 2007).Memes are considered as self replicating entities which then move through culture jumping fromperson to person. The reason to study memes themselves is because they play such a large part insociety without ever really being noticed. “Memes are said to resemble genes in that theyproduce cultural change through a process similar to natural selection: those memes that arepassed on by imitation and learning tend to dominate social life,” (Coker, 2008). The nature ofmemes in this understanding can even be seen as parasitic or viral; then again this is where theterm comes from in reference to viral videos which can be seen as using people as host andpassing from one to another. The thought of memes being viral allows for other concepts toapply to the theory such as mutation. As with genes, a meme may come into contact with a host(person) who then mutates the memes original meaning into something that suits their own need.While much of the current focus on the study of memes applies to the study of cultureand replication of behaviors, this paper focuses on the current trend of internet memes in the eraof Web 2.0 and its affect on internet users and how they perceive products and brands. Onlinethe term meme is used mainly to describe the rapid uptake and spread of a concept presented aswritten text, image, move, or some other variety of cultural thing (Shifman, 2013). While thismeaning may apply to memes in general the difference here is that online memes are also a formof self expression (Christodoulides, Jevon, & Bonhomme, 2012). Although the idea of memes ishard to gauge in that there is no defined units to measure, it is easy to see that they areeverywhere. Through social networks and other community based sites and photo aggregators,3memes have taken a hold of the internet in a way unseen before in that they allow for users toexpress themselves as they see fit. Put simply in terms of web use, a meme is something that hasbecome highly replicated by different users with different messages but with a continuedinherent meaning. Internet sensations such as “planking” in which is a person takes a picture ofthem self lying flat in an unconventional place; and Harlem Shake videos in which a group ofpeople go from a state of rest to dancing erratically when the hook of the song comes on, havecaught hold of young users as well as the more currently understood form of meme online whichis that of a photo with a caption. Although planking and Harlem Shake videos are memes, it isthe photos and captions which allow users to express their own views of the world with anongoing general understanding. Trendy memes such as a toddler fist clinched in success, acondescending Willy Wonka, and a cat with a less than happy facial expression have dominatedthe internet because of the easily understood visuals along with user-generated written text.Even though it may be hard to track the origin of a meme it has become easy for users tocreate their own. Websites like knowyourmeme.com and quickmeme.com are places in whichalready established visuals await users to add their own captions to share with others among siteslike Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and theCHIVE. As a former employee of QuickmemeWayne Miltz puts it, “The whole vision with Quickmeme is just to make it simple and fast andeasy to create these things, and before you know it you’re attempting to encapsulate your ownwitty observations on a picture of a socially awkward penguin or a hipster barista,”(Owens,2013).So what is it about memes that makes them latch on to culture? To be honest there is noreal way to measure the possible success a meme may have in the future, even though some may4share similar traits here and there memes vary in large in their adaptability to the socio-culturalenvironment in which they spawn (Shifman, 2013).While users may share their views and life experiences through memes this can also beseen as a new frontier in advertising and brand management. Because of the horizontal shiftbetween marketers and consumers, brands need to develop a strategy to deal with public opinionin a era where they are no longer in control of the messages consumers get about their productsor services. What this does is create a challenge for an integrated marketing strategy which hasthe goal of maximizing the consistency of the messages which will reach the consumers (Bruce& Solomon, 2013). Advertising is no longer a hierarchy, in which the message of the brand is thefinal say in their image, coming down from those in charge of brand image to the consumer.What this means is that companies are able to see how consumers feel about them and theirproducts or services in their own arena (Christodoulides et al, 2012). Through the use of memesand other user-generated content, the digital world has opened up into a realm of anarchy, not inthe violent sense, but in the way of there not being a defined structure. While a company mayhave a website and may have a team of people to monitor feedback what really matters is howthe consumer feels about the brand and product and what they tell other consumers (Bruce , 2013). Many memes along with other user generated content have been the subject ofbrand related material which gives the consumer a new level of power. It has been known thatword-of-mouth is an effective form of advertisement, but in the modern era people don’t interactas before in previous years yet the trend of looking for consumer information and being productsavvy is still on the rise (Yufan & Ardley, 2007). This means that memes have become a way forword-of-mouth to be shared. Although many memes pertain to certain subjects, what isimportant to note is that many of these memes shared are shared between groups with similar5interest. Because of the rapid amount of sharing, businesses are looking at memes as a way ofcreating a type of dialogue between the company and the user. “In social media and usergeneratedmedia lies a powerful compass to guide, shape and reinforce brand strategy,”(Blackshaw, 2011). An example of this would be if a software company was to release a new appfor a smart phone. While some users may review the app online and leave their comments, whatcan also be taken into account would be any memes pertaining to said app. This can work in boththe positive and the negative light. One such meme may be of the “Success kid” with a captionof something positive about the app which may spur other users with similar interest to buy it.Another side of the spectrum would be that of “Condescending Willy Wonka” with a less thankind comment, even though this in turn may drive users away from the product both memes areallowing the company to see some type of feedback about their product among other consumers.What is important to note about this is that while most product reviews may stay locatedon the company’s website or where ever the consumer may have purchased the product or evenforums dedicated to the brand, memes venture out into other areas of the digital world so theirspread may have an influence upon future consumers that are a part of other social networks orother sites. The consumer’s opinion is no longer muted at the bottom of a comment page butright in front of other users. On the up side of not being in control of the content being producedis that even if a meme may be negative it may in turn start a conversation between users, say afan of the brand who may take up defense of a product or the brand itself. Even though the brandmay be left out of the loop in the interaction it allows for the brand’s greatest asset, a fanatic, tospeak for them, therefore allowing for a more wholesome experience. This works well for thebrand in that consumers are no longer happy with corporate fabricated experiences; in turn theywant to shape the experiences themselves through co-created content such as memes and other6user generated content (Blackshaw, 2011; Christodoulides et al, 2012). The thought behindmemes as a word-of-mouth campaign is to spark conversation. To start a conversation amongconsumers is what brands are placing an emphasis on now; creating expressions rather thanimpressions. “Impressions give us no real sense of engagement, and consumer engagementwith our brands is ultimately what we’re trying to achieve,” wrote Joe Tripodi, the chiefmarketing officer of Coca-Cola Co. (cited by Keller & Fay, 2012). Expressions reflect an activeengagement with content whereas impressions, or mere exposure to content are passive; it’s nolonger good enough to just be seen, but now it is necessary to be talked about.In a study by Keller and Fay in 2012 it was found that across 15 different product andservice categories 58 percent of consumers gave a higher amount of credibility to what they hearfrom others and 50 percent were more likely to buy based on that credibility. This study alsorevealed interesting information pertaining to how these dialogues would start; it found that outof word-of-mouth advertising 25 percent of the discussions which mentioned advertisingtechniques ended with the consumer more likely to purchase the product. What this means is thatword-of-mouth, even if placed in the form of an entertaining meme matters greatly.Memes are more than just a form of word-of-mouth advertising for brands; some havefound ways to tag along with other messages. One such company that allows for advertisementsto piggyback on a meme is Someecards. Someecards.com is a site that features a mix of usergeneratedcontent and some that is produced by staff. While the site makes most of its moneyfrom advertising with banner ads like most sites of similar nature, what makes Someecards standapart is that they also make ‘branded’ e-cards. An e-card may contain a joke about happy hourfor margaritas but also have a logo for Chili’s placed on the meme, “They don’t shill for thecompany, but rather allow the brand to hitch a ride on the viral content,” (Owens, 2012).7Originally brands would use memes such as catch-phrases or slogans, something catchythat would move from person to person such as “Where’s the beef?” What makes a catchphraselike that successful and makes it into a meme is that it can become repurposed to fit anotherneed, the appeal of memes is that they are not ignored because they’ve been seen and donebefore, they have appeal because people like to see how they can be done differently (Kirby,2013). Someecards.com has found a successful way to produce memes for companies as a formof advertisements by allowing for brands to tag along with viral content, but how is it that ameme may work as an advertisement if it does not feature a company’s logo and look like an ad?This is where the creative art comes into play; there are two ways in which memes are spread:mimicry and remix (Shifman, 2013). An example of a brand using mimicry to exploit a memewould be the animated program Futurama. The main character, Fry, has been used in many usergeneratedmemes online known as the “Not sure if…” meme. The meme basically consist of animage of the character’s eyes squinted in deep thought with a caption such as “Not sure ifeverything is expensive or just poor”. When the show was brought back from cancelation in2012 Comedy Central decided to use the meme’s notoriety as a way to advertise the new season.Commercials and banner ads across the bottom of the screen during programs would feature thedate and time aired and the meme with the caption “Not sure if happiness due to life gettingbetter or just new Futurama” (Carp, 2012). Using an already existing meme featuring the showallowed for the brand to reconnect with consumers who are familiar with the brand and alsobring in those who are a fan of the meme but not familiar with the show.Another technique used by companies to take part in meme culture is that of the remix.The Chuck Norris meme has been around for years, it focuses on ridiculous abilities andattributes and places them on the martial arts star. A few brands such as Era laundry detergent,8World of Warcraft, and Mountain Dew have all taken part in this trend. What keeps peopleinterested and allows for different brands with different products to use this meme is that part ofthe memes popularity comes from remixes; people want to see how it will be done differently.Remixing and mimicry go beyond that of brands trying to keep up with up with the zeitgeist, italso allows for them to create content to then be mimicked and remixed by the public such as theOld Spice ads which featured ex-football player Isaiah Mustafa. The commercials spawned manyYouTube parodies which in turn helped to popularize the brand (Keller & Fay, 2012;Waterhouse, 2012). In his paper “Memes in a Digital World: Reconciling with a conceptualTroublemaker”, Limor Shifman (2013) emphasizes that it is necessary for a brand to be able toreplicate a meme, “In this hyper-memetic era, user driven circulation of copies and derivatives isa prevalent logic. Copies become, in this sense, more important than the ‘original’: they are theraison d’etre reason for existence”.Although copies of memes have turned out successful for brands in that it spursconsumers to share there is a downside of being the focus of a meme. This downside is that ofmutation, just like with genes a meme can go through a form of mutation in which the message isaltered to fit that of another user and then this negative message may become replicated itself.Another downside to memes is if a product is featured as part of a meme yet the subject is cast ina negative light. This happened with the meme “Scumbag Steve”, this meme features a less thanlikable character with captions such as, “Breaks something…fixes it enough to make the nextperson think they broke it”. While the memes may have been funny the character it centered onwas wearing a Burberry tartan baseball cap. Users would then use this hat in other memes inorder to signify that character wearing it had the same type of morals as ‘Steve’. This use of thehat as a negative signifier gained so much popularity that Burberry discontinued the production9of the hat in order to prevent the same connotations reaching their other products (Yufan , 2007).In seeing that the modern era has placed consumers closer to the driver’s seat in brandrelations than before, it is imperative to reach out in a way that fits the times. Memes are morethan just a way of coming up with clever advertisements and a form of word-of-mouthmarketing, it is reaching out to those who have the time to also view them. Joe Peretti, thefounder of BuzzFeed coined the term for the consumers who view memes and other viralcontent: the Bored at Work Network. “This network consist of the millions of employedprofessionals who work desk jobs that provide numerous five-to-10-minute capsules with whichto crawl the internet—while eating lunch at their desk, say, or when the numbers on theirspreadsheet have become an impenetrable blur that can be cured only by a few moments ofmindless web surfing,” (Owens, 2012). With this shift in time management it becomesincreasingly important to make sure that the message is short enough to fit within a consumer’sallotted viewing time span yet entertaining enough to be shared with others.A new app released for smart phones called Vine enables users to create short six secondvideos that loop to be shared on the app among other users and even social networks. Memeculture has moved toward these videos also in that there are numerous replications and parodiesof popular videos. Why this matters to advertisers is that it is another way in which theconsumers can speak for brands in their own way during that five to ten minute window that theyneed in order to clear their heads, and because the video is only six seconds long a viewer ismore than likely to watch it loop several times to make sure that the entire message is taken in.Repetition and replication are the current keys to reaching consumers.