What is a MEME? Let’s look at the Wikipedia definition
‘A meme is an idea, behaviour, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.’ Phew ‘Wikipedia’ makes everything sound fancy, eh?
For most of us, a MEME is a young internet user’s best friend who uses it to poke fun at celebrities and gets those retweets, but what if I told you, MEMEs have found roots across generations and are helping to sway public opinion.
Let me start from the beginning.
The term MEME was coined by biologist, author, and renowned atheist Richard Dawkins. He first defined a MEME as a term that, “conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission.” He also mentioned, “a MEME was a cultural equivalent of a gene and it was passed from brain to brain.” This excerpt is from ‘The Selfish Gene’ (Author Richard Dawkins, Year Published 1976).
MEME’s have been a part of our society way before we even knew they existed, with the first ever meme published almost a 100 years ago (1921 to be precise).
‘Any internet junkie will tell you; this image can be easily mis-understood as part of the now very famous expectation vs reality MEME.’
I know you must be thinking showcasing a hundred-year-old comic strip that coincidentally looks like an internet MEME does not prove MEMEs transcend time and generations. Let me get more specific.
Millennials, The Original MEMErs
The generation that started it all, the real OGs in the ‘internet MEME game, the only generation that has lived in a world without the internet but were also early adopters of the worldwide web.
Late 90s and early 2000s was the time when millennials found a way to communicate and connect with likeminded people using VTRI (virally transmitted remixed images).
The millennial MEME culture created close-knit communities (9gag, 4chan, Reddit, and Facebook pages) where you had to spend time before understanding a herd opinion that was layered with dark humor.
It was like an underground millennial ‘MEME Fight Club’ without any physical fighting of course. This underground society was where you could hide behind an alias but had to pay your dues before becoming a contributor. These millennial MEME agents used to hide in plain site during the day to observe society from a distance, then make jokes about it on the internet, but they lacked a purpose.
MEMEs were nothing more than a shortcut to virality and hence it was all about being the funniest. MEMEs that millennials created were everlasting, talk about the grumpy cat or the success kid, most of them are still relevant as all the impetus was on the quality of content and not a purpose. I personally think millennials have created some of the funniest MEMEs of all time. With this need to produce and share the funniest MEME, millennials ended up creating fast food media. Everything that millennials created looked delectable but lacked a larger purpose. This was also the reason why millennials are the easiest to fall for brands that talk the MEME language.
Not long ago, brands targeting millennials would get a high engagement rate by just using MEMEs. All millennials cared about was a brand understanding their MEMEs and talking to them in their language. This might sound quite easy but getting it right means going back to the underground millennial MEME fight club every night to make sure you understand your MEME and are using it in the right context or you might end up like Wendy’s when they used PEPE the Frog (you know if you know).
The most recent label in the consumer category, ‘Generation Z’ are the most active human beings on the internet. Basically, they are the ones yeeting, swiping, snapchatting, snaccing, rashing, instagramming and TikToking.
Gen Z are on the opposite spectrum when we compare them to millennials in the MEME index, they do not need any underground MEME fight clubs. Gen Z do not hide behind an internet alias when it comes to voicing their opinions. They are self-aware for being the generation who will either save the world or doom it and their MEMEs speak that language. Their MEMEs can be best defined as absurd, nihilistic, and depressing but their humor is a way of rebelling against the existing norms of the world and not accepting it.
Most of them were born when high-speed internet and social media was already a thing and because they have grown up with it, they can see through brand content strategies and paid reviews. All they are looking for in a brand is honesty, authenticity, and a support for a cause.
Ok Boomer, I mean Baby Boomer
Baby boomers are the latest entrant in the ‘MEME club’, they are the ones who are joked about the most but have recently realized it. They are amongst the fastest growing generations on social media and are increasingly spending more time on Facebook and YouTube. They are somewhat naïve when it comes to the internet and easily trust what they see.
The easiest way to influence ‘Boomers’ are political mind-bombs (A striking image that cannot be unseen). Political parties around the world have used social media mind-bombs to sway opinions and this generation has been affected by it the most. They cannot be categorized as much of MEME creators but are the easiest to influence using MEMEs.
This article is based on personal observations and secondary research and is in no way trying to offend any generation. For feedback please comment below, with a MEME.