To Meme or Not to Meme?

To Meme or Not to Meme?

A Marketer’s Guide to Memetic Media in 2021 and Beyond

About This Report
Internet memes are not a new phenomenon, but the events of 2020 have spurred their consumption. Despite their popularity among social media users, marketing with memes can still be a risky business for brands.

Executive Summary

Many social media users turned to memes for entertainment and comic relief in 2020. This report serves as a playbook for marketers on how to use memetic content as part of, or context for, their social media strategies amid and after the pandemic.

What’s behind the influx of memes on social media?

While memes are hardly new to social media users, the events of 2020—including the pandemic and the US presidential election—helped propel their consumption to new heights. In May, memes were the third-most shared type of content on social media, behind only personal news and funny videos, per a survey of US and UK internet users by We Are Social and GlobalWebIndex. A splash of social satire has helped many social media users, particularly younger ones, cope during tumultuous times.

What makes a meme successful?

Memes are built to go viral, but only the best ones do. The most successful memes tend to be those that are funny, timely, and relatable—usually containing a reference to a relevant moment in pop culture as well.

What are the opportunities for brands within meme marketing?

When done right, memes can help brands achieve upper-funnel marketing goals, such as brand awareness, and deepen customer engagement. Memes speak to the consumer on an emotional level, so they can also help brands seem more authentic and human.

What are the challenges for brands within meme marketing?

They’re difficult to get right. Meme culture moves fast, and brands can appear out of touch (or “cringey”) by jumping on a trend too late. Humor is also tricky, as there’s a risk of offending or alienating customers. Brand safety is another concern, as memes can take on a life of their own and stray far from their intended meaning. On the flip side, brands may misinterpret existing memes and use them inappropriately.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report explores how brands can incorporate memes into their social media marketing or use them as a social listening tool. It also includes best practices for marketing with memes.

KEY STAT: Nearly one-third of US and UK internet users had looked at a meme the day they took a March 2020 survey by GlobalWebIndex, with that figure rising to 54% among those ages 16 to 23.

Here’s what’s in the full report


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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. The Pandemic and Politics Propel Meme Usage
  3. The 2021 Meme Playbook for Marketers
  1. Key Takeaways
  2. Insider Intelligence Interviews
  3. Read Next
  1. Sources
  2. Media Gallery

Interviewed for This Report

Sarah Aitken
Interviewed April 21, 2020
Todd Anderman
Doing Things Media
Interviewed October 26, 2020
Candice Beck
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Senior Manager, Social and Digital
Interviewed April 22, 2020
Alessandro Bogliari
The Influencer Marketing Factory
Co-Founder and CEO
Interviewed April 4, 2020
Steven Borrelli
Cuts Clothing
Founder and CEO
Interviewed April 16, 2020
Don Caldwell
Know Your Meme
Interviewed October 28, 2020
Andres Echenique
Co-Founder and CEO
Interviewed October 28, 2020
Travis Hawley
Viral Nation
Vice President, Social Media
Interviewed April 30, 2020
Denis Litvinov
Chief Information Officer
Interviewed November 19, 2020
Noah Mallin
IMGN Media
Chief Brand Strategist
Interviewed April 4, 2020

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Jasmine Enberg


Nina Goetzen
Junior Analyst
Lucy Koch
Junior Analyst
Natalie McGranahan
Senior Researcher and Taxonomy Manager
Jillian Ryan
Principal Analyst
Debra Aho Williamson
Principal Analyst