Culture

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Why brands need to ride the culture wave with ‘Memes’

Brand’s breathe culture to connect with their consumers on a deeper level. Especially in a country like India, understanding culture becomes extremely crucial for a brand to resonate with millions of diverse consumers. Culture evolves faster than humans do. But culture comes from humans, so in order to understand the culture better, we need to understand humans better. 

India’s culture since eons has been about the diverse geographies and the myriad of societies that existed in those geographic regions. You could draw it on a map and make safe assumptions of the kind of cultures that prevailed. As we progressed, more external variables started affecting culture. Anthropological studies were no longer unilinear. By the turn of the 20th century, it had become multilinear.  And in a densely populated, culturally diverse country like India, it was projected to evolve exponentially. Fast forward to present day, when India is riding the Jio way with Internet penetration superseding anything the world has ever seen. 

Digital is coming into our lives in a big way, Social Media is now an inseparable part of our lives. India’s culture is now not only native but global. Clustering it geographically is no longer possible. The abundance of data both offline and online is becoming more of a burden than a boon. India is a cultural tsunami wave and Brands are finding ways to ride it and survive it.

Brands equipped with cultural insights are building narratives that are relevant, authentic and real for their consumers. Brand positioning is crafted to adapt to various cultures across the country and the world. Most brands, however, are looking at Pop Culture to be a part of consumer conversations. These constructs of communication are highly replicative in nature.  It’s almost like surfing bigger waves in the ocean. The process is something like this – 

1.A pop culture trend surfaces in the consumer’s universe

2.People start talking about the trend

3.Brand(s) identify the trend through social listening or ethnography

4.The brand creates marketing communication or activation basis of the brand

5.If the exercise is a success, the trend is picked up by more trends and is perpetuated among the audiences repeatedly

6.Trend dies out as people move to other trends

7.Brands wait for the next trend

8.Repeat

Sometimes it gets out of hand. Zomato’s recent attempt to use the Pratfall Effect to its advantage is a great example of what brands shouldn’t do. P.S – Btw Zomato totally won this. Here’s a Twitter Thread where Karthik Srinivasan explains this succinctly

Memes and marketing - a twitter thread

Karthik on Twitter talking about anti-marketing

This process is roughly identical to Mimesis.

Fun fact – The term ‘Meme’ was coined from the word Memetics – the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution (a study of Mimesis) – by Sir. Richard Dawkins in the 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene’. 

We have been communicating in Memes before Memes went mainstream! The Interwebs in the late 2000s brought this form back through engaging and hilarious online posts that used it as a way to opine about the world around them, thus making them one of the most pivotal forms of human communication in the 21st Century. 

Viral Marketing and sensationalized terms for Social media marketing have its roots in memes. One of the key concepts of memetics is that memes are like small codes/packets of information or ideas spread between social groups when they subconsciously realize an underlying benefit of the meme. Whatever the language, whatever the tone, whatever the platform, if the fundamental code of the Meme is widely approved, it will spread. And that’s what makes it possible for the information to spread from one person to another, to another and the person in the middle doesn’t have to understand what it means. All they have to do is copy the sequence of codes (lingo, visuals, hook line in general cases) and the message will get through. Pop culture or mainstream culture – that Brands so eagerly want to be a part of – propagates through the simple act of sharing.

The early memes in culture weren’t particularly useful to propagate information. They were habits or actions that kept on getting emulated by people and transferred and shared across millions of people. With digitization taking over in a big way, memes (not just cliche ones) have greater power to influence masses. In fact, we saw this phenomenon live in action during the 2019 General Elections in India.

But as the saying goes, with greater power comes greater responsibility. People are walking, breathing propagators carrying memes in our minds that they spread without even realizing that they are doing so. This is how misinformation spread so quickly, like a virus, in the digital age. 

With increasing competition, the necessity of utility is arising. Harnessing Memes for good or bad is becoming crucial for leaders and trolls alike to control narratives in media. 

Brands have a big opportunity here. If a meme (code of information or idea) can be identified and utilized for building a positive, purpose-driven narrative around a social issue that the brand is passionate about, it can not only do good for itself and its consumers but can also become a central player in engineering major conversations around the issue at hand. 

That is what some of the biggest brands in the world are doing. They are latching onto to cultural waves when they are small, way before they have come gigantic tidal waves that shake up the seas. 

Burger King is an excellent example of a brand that has created opportunities for itself by being at the center of Pop culture by identifying these shifts in social and cultural narratives.

Check out this insightful but slightly off-center video on why Burger Kings gets it

 By closely understanding what the people are thinking, feeling and whispering about in their circles. This goes deeper than just Social Listening or Analytics. This requires an anthropological approach that scours through the Interwebs and the real-world to understand patterns and symbolism (both verbal and visual) that are affecting their consumers’ world and the ones that are at an intersection with the brand’s positioning or purpose. 

What is important to the notice here is that the source of the idea or information controls the crux of the narrative. 9 out of 10 times your consumer will be the source. Does your strategic endeavor need to find that 1 opportunity when it can identify a Meme and make itself go Viral?

So the next time you’re working on a brief that needs to go viral and needs to stand out among your competitors, think of what ‘Meme’ you can create. Dive into the world of your consumer and hunt for that seismic cultural wave that will break the Internet and break your business targets. 

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Memes – Would they affect the outcome of the upcoming elections?

 

Meme. A phenomenon that is extremely common today.

In 1976, biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’. He used the word to describe small units of culture that spread from person to person by copying or imitation. While the word has slightly changed in its meaning today, memes do reflect the culture and society. In fact, they are an apt commentary on society today. What’s even more interesting is that this commentary is not provided by a scholar decoding culture and society, but by the everyday common man.

So, what makes memes so interesting and so popular? Well, for one, they get to the point directly. What needed context and emotional buildup to explain and hit home, now only needs the right format. Our brain fills in the emotional blanks and gets the job done, faster. The need for “shared experiences” is immediately fulfilled with the help of a meme.


With internet reaching the remotest of villages in India today and smartphones and data plans becoming cheaper than ever before, everyone is hooked on Facebook and WhatsApp. Armed with these political parties and their loyal supporters are using this asset really well.

With low literacy rates in India, visuals play an important role in the dissemination of information. Add to this the fact that most millennials today visit Facebook to get their daily dose of news (source). It is not a wonder, then, that memes, meant to invoke humour, become sources of information. Whether it is the opposition’s commentary on the policies laid down by the current government or whether it is the ruling party’s jab on the opposition’s manifesto statement, memes are now being looked at black & white documentation of proof.

The need for belonging has people reaching for the share button far more easily on memes than on the written content, which could give a more balanced view for every policy and incident that happens. What makes this content more sharable is the fact that it looks “user-generated” and more authentic. The unpolished format of the medium makes the content looks more believable and political parties have realized this. This is why you see most of these memes being generated from the IT cells of all parties rather than their own social media accounts.

 

Memes have a way of positioning or re-positioning a candidate, memes have the power to build-up an issue or build-down and make light of an issue and hence embed itself into the memory structures of people/voters easier and create a larger impact. There is nothing comical about the impact of a meme. 

While in the current political scenario memes are crafted with intentions of manipulating opinion, post this scenario consumer generated memes, shared memes are actually more than just ways of engaging consumers – they when audited right can lead to mining of great insights.

 Meme-Marketing yes, but Meme-Sights (Insights) even more of a yeah especially if they are consumer generated and shared!

Would memes impact the outcome of the elections? One may not know for sure. But what’s clear is that memes have the ability to distract people from the main issues and take the narrative to feelings instead of facts.

 We’ll need to wait for the outcome of the elections to see the impact of the memes.

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