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The Complete Guide To Using Memes And Gifs In Marketing

The Complete Guide To Using Memes And Gifs In Marketing

It’s rare that you’ll scroll through any social media platform today and won’t see some kind of meme or gif. In fact, with most users only reading around 28% of the text they see online, the use of visual content has become a staple in the world of digital marketing and gifs and memes seem to be the way to go. On Twitter alone, tweets with gifs generate around 55% more engagement overall, showing just how powerful a well-chosen gif can be.

While only 3.6% of marketers used gifs and memes in their marketing last year, brands that can get it right can see up to 10x more engagement in a lot of cases, particularly when their brand is targeted at generations Y and Z. We’ve spoken to our social media experts, and here’s what they have to say about using memes and gifs in your marketing techniques.

Memes in Content what we'll cover


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What Is A Meme?

By dictionary definition, the term ‘meme’ was originally used to describe a specific behaviour or element of culture that is passed from one person to another, by imitation or non-genetic means. More recently, an additional definition has been added, referring to an image, video or another content type that is copied and spread via the internet, usually with variations and is typically of a humorous nature.

The first use of the word ‘meme’, with the exception of its Greek origin, seems to be credited to Richard Dawkins and his book The Selfish Gene. Within the book, he used the word to refer to the spread and growth of cultural trends and while this didn’t strictly refer to memes as we think of them today.

In fact, today’s idea of a meme tends to be an image or gif that features a text overlay on an existing image that typically leans towards the funnier side of things. But where did it all begin?

What was the first meme used

What Was The First Meme?

There’s a lot of debate when it comes to just what the first meme really was, but there seems to be a general consensus that it is one of two – A comic from the University of Iowa’s satirical magazine, The Judge, or the first internet meme, the Dancing Baby.

The Judge’s meme is the first recorded use of a ‘What you think you look like vs. what you think you look like’ meme and is currently over 98 years old. The two-pane illustration plays on and is thought to be the origin of the popular self-deprecating meme in the media today, but rather than offering a photo, was crafted using a drawing. When this meme first circulated on the internet, there was speculation that the cartoonish drawing style was too modern for the comic strip clipping to legitimate, however a digital scan by Google of the original seems to suggest that it’s very much a solid part of meme history way before the internet was ever available to the public.

For those more concerned with memes on the internet, particularly those of us born in or before the 1900s, you may very well remember a little animation of a baby dancing to the intro of the song “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede. While initially only released as a product sample for a 3D character animation studio, “Character Studio”, this short video-turned-gif became a viral sensation, circulating via email chain as early as 1996.

Before even the dancing baby, however, came Godwin’s Law – a graph depicting how the length of a conversation correlated with the probability that someone would make a reference to Nazi’s or Hitler. The satirical humour is now used by meme fans as a way to ‘end’ a conversation following the mention of the Nazi regime, and that the person who mentioned it “lost” the discussion.

popularity in memes and gifs


The rise in memes, or gifs used as memes, seems to correlate relatively closely with the rise in internet users and new social media users. It’s suggested that, as Facebook was introduced into the social media mix and made the sharing of content much simpler, the popularity of memes skyrocketed. Fast-forward to today, and individuals of all ages are liking, sharing, reblogging and posting their own memes, and businesses are no exception.

Their popularity as a whole can be put down to their humour and relatability in a lot of cases. The ability to share memes either as a reaction to another post online or as a way to express our own feelings and mood, has led these simple images and gifs to become a core part of our online language. More and more often, conversations are moving away from text and into the use of gifs as a form of expression and a lot of social platforms are starting to include ‘gif keyboards’ as standard. Facebook Messenger, Discord and even Apple’s iMessage feature have gif keyboards or widgets, allowing us to easily send and share gifs as we see fit.

The ease of access and an understandable want to share things we find funny have meant gifs and related memes have become standard in our society. In fact, it’s predicted that over 23 million GIFs are posted to Tumblr every day and that there are over 150 million original gifs, if not more, are in circulation as we speak.

Content marketing

What Are The Most Popular Memes?

While it’s difficult to determine just which memes have been shared and shown around the most, there are a number of memes that have stuck with us over the years and secured their place in the proverbial hall of fame. These include:

But that's none of my business

But That’s None Of My Business

If there’s one thing we can all agree on when it comes to memes, it’s that they’re a great way to convey a touch of sarcasm online without being misunderstood – most of the time. This particular meme uses a seemingly innocent image of Kermit the Frog (of Muppets fame) drinking from a cup of tea, with the phrase ‘but that’s none of my business’ as standard at the bottom of the picture. Fill in the top text with anything you want to make a judgement on and voila – a judgmental but often hilarious meme.

Grumpy Cat meme

Grumpy Cat

Back in the simpler days, a car by the name of Tardar Sauce went viral on the internet known under a different alias – Grumpy Cat. Tardar Sauce suffered from a condition called ‘feline dwarfism’, which gave her the unusual look and distinctive underbite that forms that famous frown. The meme has become synonymous with all things grumpy online, and even led to a feature-length movie. Tardar Sauce recently passed away, but the meme still retains a strong place online.

Rickrolling meme


If singer Rick Astley had ever questioned the success of his single Never Gonna Give You Up, the sudden rise of the Rickrolling meme certainly eradicated any of that concern. This meme featured sending a link to someone online, with a ‘clickbait’ style title in that it would be misleading. The video would load and the music video for Never Gonna Give You Up would play. If you’ve ever fallen prey to such a move, you’ll have been rickrolled.

Doge meme


This particular meme featured a now all-too-familiar image of a Shiba Inu giving the side-eye, often accompanied with various background images and captions like ‘wow’, ‘very [noun]’ and ‘much [adjective]. The grammatically incorrect phrasing was designed to mimic the perceived thought process of a dog and certainly gave us a laugh in the meantime.

Lolcat meme


We’ve all seen one – a cute or silly picture of a cat, accompanied by a very badly spelt caption that we know today as ‘lolspeak’. These memes were the core of the internet fad back in 2006 and beyond, and are still popular today. In fact, the ICanHasCheezburger website was receiving over 1.5 million hits per day at its peak.

Gangnam style meme

Gangnam Style

While not strictly a meme in and of itself, the viral nature of this K-Pop sensation is unrivalled by even the most popular of memes. At the time, K-Pop still wasn’t hugely popular outside of Korea, and while it might be growing in popularity now, it’s unusual nature – or at least in the terms of Gangnam Style, turned the video into a sensation. It still remains one of the most viewed YouTube videos of all time.

Memes in content

How To Incorporate Memes In Your Marketing

Marketing on social media isn’t easy, and for businesses that are struggling, it can be tempting to give up altogether. More and more consumers are skipping ads within YouTube videos and stories, particularly as Instagram launched it’s ‘skippable ads’ feature in 2017 and scrolling past them on their news feeds. With Facebook’s move to provide more meaningful content to users, businesses are often getting overlooked on the news feed too, making things all the more difficult when it comes to capturing attention. As a result, businesses need to get a little more creative with the content they’re sharing in order to cultivate engagement.

In order to begin using memes in your marketing, you first need to determine whether your campaign is right for that approach. While gifs can be used in most marketing campaigns, memes and gifs depicting humour will match best with either humorous campaigns, or those designed specifically to build engagement with younger audiences.

If you’re going to use memes in your marketing, you need to ask yourself the following questions

  • Is It Right For Your Campaign? – Only use memes when it’s relevant.
  • Are You Using Them Correctly? – Getting the meaning of a meme wrong can be more harmful than useful. Make sure you understand the meme you want to use first.
  • Is The Meme Trending? – Is the meme on trend currently, or it is older and already considered ‘out of date’?
  • Are You Trying Too Hard? – Overusing memes can make it look like you’re trying too hard. Use them when it feels natural, and your consumers are more likely to naturally share, too.
  • Are You Putting Aside Your Content For Memes? – Are you forgetting about your other content while trying to use memes? Memes are most beneficial when used to enhance the content, not replace it.

Using memes and gifs in your social media marketing can help to increase the engagement and shareability of your content, particularly when you use them well. By carefully targeting the content to specific groups – providing they are a feasible part of your target audience – you can make stronger connections, build engagement and ultimately increase your potential customer base along the way. Memes are a great way to react to industry changes and trends, stay at the forefront of your users’ minds and make sure that people remember you. Providing you follow the questions above, there isn’t much that can go wrong.

Social media marketing campaign

Copyright Law

While there aren’t many rules when it comes to meme usage, you do need to pay attention to copyright law. As with any content on the web, there is a certain level of copyright that you’ll need to adhere to.  Of course, if you make your own gifs from scratch, the copyright will be yours and yours alone, but what about those memes you’re picking up off the internet?

Well, unfortunately, the answer to this one is an ‘it depends’. As with any images, some will and some won’t be copyrighted depending on the owner’s preference. Some memes are out there in the public domain to be used, designed and rejigged as the user sees fit, but it’s important to remember that almost every popular meme is technically copyrighted and it isn’t unheard of for creators to seek damages for misuse.

However, there are a number of images that are free to use, and you can do so with ease. With a bit of research and the help of a meme creator such as ImgFlip and Imgur, you can utilise the copyright-free meme templates to make your own memes relevant to your business and your audience. You can also make memes from scratch utilising photo editing software, though this will require you to research the copyright on an image yourself.

Copyright Law

If you’re looking to start using memes in your marketing or simply want help putting together a social strategy that will captivate your audience, speak to our social media team on 0800 088 6000.

To find out more about the digital marketing services available at Absolute Digital,
get in touch on 0800 088 6000 or fill in the contact form below.

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