“Meme” comes from a Greek word. In terms of marketing the word describes a “packet” of information that is comprehensible in an instant. In order to cut through the noise and jumble of advertising today only the most compelling and simple-to-understand “packets” succeed.
Memes in marketing are real. They are a mind-control device. This isn’t science fiction stuff. Geoff Ayling in his book “Rapid Response Advertising” tells all about it. It is one of my favorite books.
Memes are a sort of “instant recall” template in our brains. Sometimes a meme is a slogan, sometimes it’s a jingle, sometimes it’s a visual association. Whatever the form, a successful advertising meme gets under our skin and embeds itself into our subconscious mind from where it influences our actions.
Perhaps. But I think I can convince you that a meme can be used as a force for good… and that developing the right meme for your business or product could be the difference between struggling to succeed year-in, year-out and getting filthy rich.
Here’s a classic meme:
“I like IKE!”
What’s not to like about Ike? His image was congruent, at least in public he succeeded in being likable in two elections… in part due to his charisma, appearance, and credibility – but it was all tied-together by the simple 3-word hear-it, say-it meme. Ike won by a landslide in 1953, ending a 20-year Democratic White House – even though he had NEVER HELD AN ELECTED OFFICE and thus wasn’t an experience legislator.
Ike’s election was a great triumph of populism… and it might have come off well even without the meme “I line Ike!” You can’t deny the power or the associations the slogan brings up.
Other famous memes include:
“Hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes of less or it’s Free!”
“We’re number 2. We try harder.”
In both these cases the name of the business isn’t even included in the meme but the associations are so powerful the majority of Americans recognize these memes even though they may not have see the ads in years.
“Take the Pepsi challenge!”
I remember this from the 1970s and early 80s. I was a kid. I liked coke better but I did try Pepsi, as did most Coke drinkers… and Coke lost a huge market share to Pepsi in the space of a few years. Pepsi re-positioned Coke as being old-fashioned and uncool. The damage to Coke was brutal and the company spend incredible amounts of money trying to get the business back. One of the great marketing coups in history.
Let’s face it, the chances that your product or company will ever have such a successful meme as these ones is slim. Memes are powerful in more subtle contexts too. Ideally a meme will create, in the mind of your customers, a profound and compelling “reason” to buy from you. A combination of memes can even be used in layers to create the impression that your product or service is profoundly different from your competition – even though in reality it is not.
The differentiation between what you sell and what your competition sells is in the MINDS of the people who experience your products or your advertising. Many business owners would be shocked at just how oblivious the public is to the value of their products, and how easily forgotten their advertising is.
By understanding and using Memes in your marketing messages you stand a fighting chance of standing out in a sea of “me-too” marketing… which is, despite your pride in your current marketing, probably what you are doing right now.
There are not that many great memes visible in marketing today. Some of the companies that have them however have triumphed in the marketplace. Avis car rental’s Meme “We’re number 2 – we try harder” actually catapulted that failing company into a number 2 position… the Meme actually created the reality they were after.
The Marlboro Man is another successful meme. The tag line is “Come To Where The Flavor Is – Marlboro Country” – and that’s okay but the real power of it comes with the layering of the associated images of male power and rugged Americanism. The memes embedded in the collective consciousness of America and took Marlboro from being number 22 to being number one in cigarette sales. It took a undistinguished, failing brand and created a multi-billion dollar brand.
I wouldn’t want to be involved with a poisonous product like cigarettes but you have to admit the meme is powerful indeed, and worth studying. A number of liquor companies have sort of tried to borrow from the Marlboro meme with some success. In essence Whiskey is, to most drinkers, pretty similar, yet effective memetic marketing has created brand-preferences in the minds of consumers which allow some brands to dominate. When presented at a bar with 20 brands of Whiskey the drinker knows what he likes. He has a preference that is in fact less based on his own real personal preference and more based in the effective mind-control marketing of memetic branding.
Powerful stuff indeed.