Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Meme is the word: social marketing for Gen Y trends

Inspired by Sunday night’s Family Guy episode – after which everyone started proclaiming that ‘bird is the word’ on their Facebook status updates – this post is about modern marketing memes.

Memes are “ideas or behaviors that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, gestures, practices, fashions, habits, songs, and dances. Memes propagate themselves and can move through the cultural sociosphere in a manner similar to the contagious behavior of a virus.” (Wikipedia)

Right now I’m sitting in class and thinking about all the behaviors that we’ve individually learned from each other. It’s a weird dynamic here at Schulich because with so many diverse backgrounds and experiences, it’s hard to not take best practices, ideas, or perspectives from others and co-opt them as your own.

We’ve all seen examples of a meme in our classes. Look at the one student in the class who seems to know what they’re doing when it comes to writing a case or an assignment. Doesn’t everyone go to that person and ask them questions about how they completed it so that you can mirror their work? In this vein it’s social Darwinism at work: rapid social adoption of the ‘best herd practice’, or at least the practice seen to be most popular by the other members of the herd.

So memes are odd – it’s not always the best practice, not always the most popular idea. Instead, it’s an idea that has catalytic value and is able to be communicated and adopted easily by others. Consider these modern marketing memes:

  • "Oh my god, my business needs a website because everyone else has one!"
  • "It’s about relevance, not volume"
  • "Brands are dying, consumers are only loyal to themselves now"

As a card-carrying Gen Y, I love memes. Why? Cause like most Gen Ys, I’m social but independent, extroverted and networked yet individualistic, and brought up by parents who encouraged free and creative thinking. Sharing and contributing to social discourse is therefore only part of the game. Consider these Gen Y memes:

  • Talking politics when you enter college– especially if you go to an arts school, not a business school!
  • Wholesome pop (the packaged reaction to the late 90s trollop pop), including the Jonas Brothers, High School Musical, Tokio Hotel, Hannah Montana
  • No-barriers sharing. One’s whole life, friends, pictures, secrets, ideas, and interests are on your Facebook page
  • Lolcatz, pwns, fails, YTMND

I don’t pretend to be a social anthropologist or expert semioticist, but I can analyze content and culture. It pays to keep your ear to the ground and understand memes for their power to influence people and, in turn, be shaped by people. Memes are particularly germane to contemporary marketing because of their importance in the lives of Gen Y consumers. Creating value with young consumers is a two-way street and necessitates an honest and fun approach to relationship building.

In theory, memes could act as jetpacks for brands or people to attach themselves to to quickly reach key influencers and adopters. Ok good, but how about being a meme yourself? Why mimic when you can lead?

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