British scientist Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, coined the word meme, which he defined as “a unit of cultural transmission.” 

Having first considered, then rejected, “mimeme,” he wrote: “‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene.’ I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate ‘mimeme’ to ‘meme.’” (The suitable Greek root was mim-, meaning “mime” or “mimic.” The English suffix -eme indicates a distinctive unit of language structure, as in “grapheme,” “lexeme,” and “phoneme.”)

The word “meme” caught on fairly quickly, spreading from person to person as it established itself in the language.

Most people online today will view and share, and even create, memes with very little thought about the influence that such images can have, particularly those that take a satirical view of society or normalised behaviours.

Marketers Making Memes

Most people spend about 200 minutes online every day. Much of this time is spent on social media, as many people who are working online find it hard to avoid the constant interruptions from desktop notifications and push notifications on mobile devices.

The downside to brand marketing on social media is that it often has low engagement. Most people are not interested in branded content that slots into their feed. Gen Z is very ad-averse, so it is important to understand who your audience is and what they expect from your brand online.

When done correctly, meme marketing can be very successful. Branded content can be used to share something of value with its audience. Memes work for brands because they’re designed specifically for social platforms and provide value through entertainment. The idea is to make people laugh or think first, then subtly have your brand linked with the meme.

Memes are made for sharing. While your blog might be a brilliant piece of content that is capable of inspiring the masses, most people hardly read past the first few paragraphs, and fewer people share such content. Memes, on the other hand, are made for sharing. The fast, visual communication of an idea can spread your name faster than almost any other type of content, so it’s important that you get it right.

How To Do Meme Marketing

You can either use an existing meme or make your own.

Existing Memes

Memes can have a long life cycle, and to effectively use an existing meme, marketers need to stay in tune with what’s trending.

You need to know what trending memes mean, as they can change very quickly. It is important to be fully aware of any cultural slurs or misinterpretations that could be devised from a meme before you post it. The damage you can do to your brand by not first considering if it really is funny or could be offensive is massive. With developing news stories, like the coronavirus pandemic, what was funny about toilet paper hoarding last week might be a serious issue this week as the death toll rises and people are facing far more serious shortages of household supplies.

Creating Your Own

If you don’t want to use an existing meme, make your own. The biggest challenge is that it is not a trusted meme that your audience recognizes. However, if you get it right, the benefits are viral sharing.

Heinz is a perfect example of meme creation in action. The condiment brand wanted to increase brand awareness and engagement on its social media. It worked directly with to implement a meme marketing campaign with the goal of earning 1 million impressions.

Heinz asked are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable? They asked people to take sides with hashtags and posted graphics saying, “If you had to decide right now if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, which would you choose?”

Heinz received over 4 million impressions, which was quadruple their goal. They also had over 80,000 total engagements across Facebook and Instagram.

Rules For Meme Marketing

To create a potentially viral response to your meme, follow these rules:

Be a native. Make sure a digital native is writing and sharing memes from your brand so the language is correct. If you don’t, the meaning can be lost or worse, offensive, and you’ll get the wrong attention.

Be relatable. It’s guaranteed that only a segment of your viewers will understand your meme. Don’t try to create a meme that appeals to everyone. Know your target audience and cater to their interests instead.

Know your timing. Some memes have been around for years, while others are fleeting. If you use an existing meme, make sure it’s still appropriate. If you put up a meme referring to a past event, make sure it’s something that is part of your audiences’ psyche and be sensitive to changes.


Memes can be used by businesses to connect with their audience, as long as you follow the rules and understand the power of what you are sharing. Content has a way of evolving and taking on a life of its own when presented in visual form, so do your research, pick your time and have fun engaging with your audience through subtle brand-affirming memes.