Memes: creativity in times of lethargy

17 April 2020, By Ana Escudeiro

The global coronavirus crisis is keeping millions of people in their homes in an indefinite quarantine, a kind of lethargy that seems to drag us all into an episode of Black Mirror. However, that sense of surrealism and concern is not the only thing that unites us, so are all the memes in our mobile gallery. Even when facing a problem of this magnitude, people’s creativity seems to be an inexhaustible source that ends up materialising in humour and, more specifically, in the form of a meme.

By way of introduction, it is interesting to note that the term “meme” refers to the minimum unit of information that can be transmitted and its name dates back to 1976, long before the emergence of social networks. It was Richard Dawkins who coined the definition in his book “The Selfish Gene”, a lot of time has passed since then, and now we know meme marketing, a discipline which has revolutionised the way brands and consumers interact.

One of the most present examples in the current collective imagination is the work that Netflix does and the whole universe that is born on their social networks precisely around this form of communication, the meme, with the characters and dialogues of their series and productions. Their creations are able to go beyond their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles to end up sneaking into users’ private conversations, also on WhatsApp.


The question is: what is the key to the success of this resource? There is no one single answer, but we can say that its ease of understanding, along with the use of familiar references for the user, has a lot to do with it. Companies are so aware of this effect that today even traditional brands have incorporated this element into their communication strategies to reach their public. For example, an automotive giant like Nissan has developed a whole advertising campaign through it.

As far as PR agencies are concerned, the meme works in the same way as news hijacking, it is essential to be connected to the media agendas so that the messages we want to convey are as up-to-date as possible. In the same way, it is crucial to be aware of the viralisation of memes that takes place on the networks week after week (even day after day) and which strongly influences users’ conversations and, therefore, their form of communication, language and even style. But like any viral phenomenon, there is no roadmap to success, although some constants can be listed, so here goes:


  • The main purpose of the meme is to give visibility to the brand and, therefore, it is used to generate awareness. In other words, we should not look for a direct conversion but neither should we underestimate this effect since strong links can be achieved with the users.
  • Memes are successful with friends and also in WhatsApp groups with parents and grandparents, so they don’t understand age, but about humour. That’s why it’s important to know your audience and see what works best for them.
  • A meme arises from the spontaneity of conversations in social networks, so it should not be an overly elaborate image or gif, but rather a casual creation, or at least that is the image that should be projected when it is introduced.


In short, this audiovisual medium came into our lives a few years ago and also into the world of communication and marketing and has come to stay. We see them in the profiles of our favourite brands and also in the messages that your mother sends you asking how you are doing in your quarantine. We will have to be on the lookout to see how companies exploit it, but one thing is clear: humour is also necessary in times of crisis. And, continuing with the pop culture references, if the Operacion Triunfo jury praised Alfred because in times of reggaeton he played the trombone, we, in times of coronavirus, will remain faithful to memes.