Just in time for prom season, KFC last month launched a campaign with an unusual message: give your date a chicken corsage. The cheeky marketing initiative encouraged teens to surprise their dates “with a chicken corsage that will make her eyes light up and her mouth water.”
This campaign is an example of meme marketing: hooking into a social media meme to engage online audiences with your brand. In the case of KFC, the campaign was linked to the phenomenon of “promposals,” in which boys plan a public event to ask someone to prom, capture it on video, and then share it on social media.
Promposals are an example of an ongoing meme—something like rickrolling, or Gangnam Style or Grumpy Cat—which can thrive online for weeks or even years. Along with the marketing opportunities provided by these memes, marketers also have time-limited opportunities in the form of date-specific online “events” like National Sibling Day, or Star Wars Day. This trend is so pervasive that there’s a dedicated website that tracks the events coming up.
While these social media memes and events can provide great hooks for marketing campaigns, meme-related promotions work most effectively when they are grounded in a solid understanding of your brand, customers and marketplace. Here are four questions to ask before launching your campaign:
1. What memes are relevant to your market or brand?
When done right, meme-based marketing could create millions of dollars’ worth of awareness for the brand and burnish your credentials for being contemporary and connected. This type of real-time marketing, however, should naturally link back to what you do. For family-oriented brands, you might be able to tie in to National Sibling Day. If you’re selling pizzas, you could do something clever for Pi Day.
To discover events related to your brand, it helps to know your customers. If you’re in the wedding business, figure out how people are popping the question, sharing the news and tracking the engagement and big day online. If your business relates to babies, how are couples announcing their pregnancy to their networks? Exploring these questions will reveal which events are most relevant to your brand.
2. Will this promotion hurt your brand?
Leveraging online events has some risks. For instance, if you advertise a big “4/20 sale,” that messaging will be interpreted online in a very specific way. Unless your brand employs a provocative marketing approach, this mishap is a potential PR disaster.
To avoid controversy, consider pre-testing your ads. Getting customer feedback for your marketing collateral can identify design or messaging issues that you should correct before unleashing your campaigns to the world.
3. Is your promotion authentic?
It’s easy for companies to fall flat on their face when they jump on a meme bandwagon. Consumers—teens, in particular—can easily detect campaigns that are disingenuous; they wouldn’t hesitate to complain (on social media, of all places) if your efforts don’t feel authentic.
Before participating, make sure you understand the language and the culture of the audience you’re targeting. The way to do this is by maintaining an ongoing relationship with customers. Using your community of customers as a sounding board for new ideas will save you a lot of grief later.
4. What does this meme tell you about your market?
Memes can also be a source of customer insight in and of themselves. What does the popularity of promposals say about the needs of teens today? Why do many Millennials participate in social media awareness campaigns, despite the stereotype that they are ambivalent on social issues?
Following social media events and memes related to your industry can be a great way of tapping into emergent demands or attitudes that will affect your business in the future. Use these events as a source of inspiration for the questions you should ask your customers in your research.
The growing popularity of promposals and other memes shows teens’ desire to share extraordinary experiences online and to gain a little bit of fame. It’s a new twist to an old tradition—and a reminder to marketers to re-think their old ways as well.