BY: GILLIAN ZUCKER
Not to sound like an elderly woman reminiscing on a pivotal moment in her storied past, but I remember the first meme I ever encountered online. It was in 2007. This simple digital interaction changed my life and influenced my career interests. With a more worldly lens, however, the viral nature and evolution of our memes changed the way we interact with the people in our network and how public relations professionals promote our favorite brands today.
2007 was actually a very notable year in the history of memes and the Internet. It marked the birth of social media and the micro-blogging platform Tumblr, the popularity of deceiving your friends by “Rickrolling” them, and the initial fame of the legendary YouTube video “Charlie Bit My Finger.” While surfing the web on my desktop computer after a grueling day of middle school, I stumbled upon the new website, “I Can Has Cheezburger?” This site was known for its adorable “LOLcat” pictures of funny felines paired with the iconic superimposed chat-speak text (ex. “Halp hooman!” or the classic, titular line, “I can has cheezburger?”) that characterized the design and structure of many memes during this year. I just had to share the adorable wealth on my Tumblr and in person with my friends.
As time went on, my love for memes blossomed, in direct relation with the increased Web 2.0 interactivity of social media platforms. Tumblr memes transcended the site and were posted all over the Internet, user-generated YouTube videos went viral, immediately creating stars, while Facebook and Twitter became the grounds for sharing and curating the original content users found. These memes, whether they featured animals, commented on socioeconomic issues, or were entirely absurd, helped the Internet flourish into an online community where everyday users could express themselves freely. They even revolutionized the media industry, giving anyone the tools to become an artist or influencer to the public. In good times and bad, memes are the universal relics of our culture, shared and enjoyed by all.
Many of the brands we love have joined the conversation, creating their own memes. For example, Denny’s, a fast-casual restaurant chain “broke the Internet” by tweeting an existential iteration of the “zoom in” scavenger hunt meme. According to a Denny’s spokesperson, the tweet was the brand’s most shared and liked post of all time. The day it was posted, it contributed to nearly 60 million impressions, received 121,000 retweets, and created headlines. Denny’s CMO, John Dillon, in an interview with TODAY Food, explained that the social team takes an “always on” approach to its content curation, looking for moments “that have America talking.” Other brands, such as Wendy’s and Arby’s have also been successful using memes to get noticed by millennial target audiences.
You’re probably thinking: “Hey now, will memes become the new all-stars of the public relations industry?” Time will tell, but recent trends definitely point to a field of memes.