What’s a meme and more importantly, how the hell do you pronounce it?!

Friday saw another year of Mashable’s ‘Social Media Day’, and over at Home we spent the day reflecting on what social means to us both personally and in our work lives. It turns out we’re now fluent in using emojis and images to communicate, and we definitely have a mutual love for memes.

So, what’s a meme?

Okay – first things first – it’s pronounced “meem”. The word itself, was coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, and refers to anything which is used to convey an idea. In its current internet iteration, a meme is an image which is associated with a specific joke structure, accompanied by an interchangeable caption, for example, a picture of a man shrugging with a caption referencing something which might make you shrug:

Memes seem to use the same pictures, where do these come from?

There’s no single answer, but meme images will generally be popularised within online communities such as Twitter and Reddit. They can come from anywhere – the above example being taken from this relatively obscure video of a basketball player, but the thing which gives them life is whether they’re accepted by the wider community – their ability to go viral. Interestingly, this also relates back to Richard Dawkin’s original definition – ideas which spread like a virus, and the strength of the virus being determined by how easily relatable the original idea (or meme) is.

What makes memes go viral?

Thanks to the site Know Your Meme you can generally track down the origins of most memes, from the source of these images to who first posted it as a meme, and its subsequent online spread (shown as a graph, based on Google data of how often the meme has been searched for).

As memes have increased in popularity, power users have begun surfacing, which can hugely accelerate a memes prevalence. Daquan on Instagram, for example, has over 9 million followers, with his posts receiving hundreds of thousands of likes within hours of uploading. As mentioned before though, the strongest memes will be both relatable and lend themselves easily to your personal caption idea.

What are 2017’s memes looking like?

2017 has been the strongest year yet for memes, with the first few months generating some absolute destroyers. Personal favourites include Oh No Baby, Roll Safe and Meryl Streep Shouting. Of the classics, I’ve still got a lot of love for Overly Attached Girlfriend, Xzibit Yo Dawg and First World Problems.

Do memes work within marketing campaigns?

The incredibly niche nature of memes means that they don’t always translate effectively into mass marketing campaigns, but if used by the right brand, in the right circumstances amongst a relevant audience, they could form part of a wider social strategy.

Gucci gave it a shot earlier this year though, and unfortunately for them, the internet wasn’t wholly feeling it. See Comso’s reaction to Gucci’s approach here. There’s a fine line between mutually appreciating a meme and needlessly co-opting it.

Spinning memes for marketing purposes, or Memejacking as it’s known, seems somewhat ill-advised for the majority of brands, though this Virgin Media ad from 2012 still reigns as the most successful of the cross-overs, which is fitting, seeing as they utilised the Success Kid meme!

Closing thoughts on the wide world of memes

If you don’t get it, don’t sweat it – there’ll be another one along in a few minutes! The world of memes is an absolute absurd rabbit hole of fun, so just give it a dig and see what tickles your fancy.