10 Marketing Lessons You Can Learn from Memes Like Grumpy Cat

meme marketing

Memes have become a sensation…on the Internet and beyond. They communicate an idea simply and in a way that’s easy to repeat and enhance

They have also become an important marketing tool. Create products or services around a meme and you may have an unstoppable brand.

Let’s look at some of the most important memes today and see what marketing ideas we can draw from them to help in our own businesses. Check it out.

10 Meme Marketing Lessons

1. Your Meme Should Have Instant Appeal

For those who may be unaware, Grumpy Cat has become a popular online meme built around the image of a cat named Tartar Sauce.

The cat’s comical appearance, including what seems to be a perpetual frown, is the key to her appeal.

It’s easy to imagine some of the things this cat might have on her mind and to translate these grumpy thoughts into grumpy quotes. We all know, of course, that Tarter Sauce isn’t really grumpy.

She is just an unusual looking kitty with an unusual appearance that makes her look that way.

Even so, we can’t get enough.

2. Integrating Online and Offline Efforts is Important

Grumpy Cat has done more than just conquered the Internet. Everyone’s favorite cranky kitty is now making personal appearances too.

For example, visitors to this year’s iconic SXSW Interactive festival in Austin stood in line for hours to have their photos taken with the no-less iconic feline.

As much as possible in your marketing, look for ways to touch your audience through multiple channels…including in the real world.

Though online channels have been critical to the spread of many memes, always seek other opportunities to engage.

meme marketing

3. Always Look for Ways to Build On the Value of Your Brand

Photos of an adorably annoyed kitty are terribly cute, of course. But how can you build a brand on them.

And, perhaps just as important, how do you add value for your audience keeping their interest and building their involvement.

Attaching valuable products and services to your brand is another way to build brand engagement.

For example, Grumpy Cat’s name and memorable face has now been used to market several products. Everything from Grumpy Cat coffee drinks to a Grumpy Cat themed premium weather app for smartphones are now available.

4. Don’t Allow Your Marketing Message to Stagnate

Memes must be simple but still allow for evolution of their message. Look for ways to keep evolving your meme over time to keep it from ever getting stale.

For example, another unusual kitty meme has spawned countless video mashups, constantly encouraging others to contribute to the message and keep it fresh.

Meet the orange keyboard playing cat named Fatso (pictured below). The cat was originally video taped in the 1980s by her owner Charlie Schmidt who posted the video on YouTube in 2007.

In 2009, a popular YouTube video juxtaposed the Keyboard Cat with someone falling down an escalator. After that, creating videos in which the keyboard playing cat would appear following an unfortunate event became a viral sensation. Keyboard Cat, who unfortunately died long before achieving celebrity, is now featured on products ranging from T-Shirts to mugs and bumper stickers.

meme marketing

5. Tell a Compelling Story

Many popular memes have a compelling narrative. Likewise, brand storytelling strategy should be a part of your larger marketing plan. Weaving a compelling story around your brand helps inspire people to talk about it, and share the story with their friends. If your marketing message tells a story, there is a better chance it will take off.

Think about the story of Jared the Subway Guy. Jared Fogle, an obese college kid, used the sandwich chain’s product to solve a problem much more compelling than what to have for lunch. That problem was how to shed unwanted pounds. As a result, an unlikely marketing campaign was born. That’s what compelling storytelling is all about. So make sure you have a story to tell. It will be all the more compelling if the story comes from a customer experience.

6. Get Your Social Media Marketing Right

Memes, and we are talking about the popular ones here, continue to exploit social media to its limits. If there was no social media, we wouldn’t be writing an article on Grumpy Cat and the marketing lessons one can learn from her popularity. A large part of your marketing effort must focus on using social media to engage with your customers.

If you want to make your business a viral sensation, it needs to be on social media. Create great brand specific content consistently and share it with your followers.

meme marketing

7. Don’t Focus on Content that will Instantly Go Viral

The meme known as Nyan Cat (or Pop Tart Cat) was never created with the idea of developing a viral sensation. The animated kitty has the improbable body of a popular kids’ breakfast treat and a rainbow tail that seems to propel it through outer space. Nyan Cat is the creation of illustrator Christopher Torres, who owns the website LOL-Comics.

But it was only after one fan added a popular pop song to a video of the animated cat that Nyan Cat became an Internet sensation on both Tumblr and YouTube.

Focus on creating content that can resonate with your audience and let them do the rest. Think of Po, the well-known animated Panda star of the Kung Fu Panda movie series (pictured above). As an icon, he has now become more popular than the movies in which he starred.

8. Make Your Marketing Message Easy to Understand

Think of Scumbag Steve, the caricature of the teenage loser many remember from high school.

One of the reasons why Scumbag Steve is popular is because, if you read all those meme captions from Steve’s perspective, you can instantly relate. That’s what make this meme a pop culture phenomenon – simple messaging. Make sure your marketing message is simple and straightforward.

meme marketing

9. Forget Brand Loyalty, Look to Create Brand Devotion

Even Scumbag Steve (pictured above), for all the hate directed at this meme, has a devoted band of followers. Use marketing to drive love for your brand, not as just a way of spreading awareness.

First, create an idea with which your target customers can identify. Then use marketing as a way of creating added interest. Think of how Apple has used its brand to drive loyalty for its products. Apple customers don’t just consume the company’s products. They are passionate about them.

10. Get People Talking About Your Brand

Give people a reason to talk about your brand and share your content with their friends. That’s how Internet memes go viral.

A creatively done YouTube video or an eye catching content strategy will help. Try to do something that takes you away from your comfort zone.

Knowing why and how an image became a meme allows you to implement the same kind of thinking in your marketing campaign.What do you think?


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends and a professional journalist with more than 20 years experience in traditional and digital media for trade publications and news sites. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and managing editor for the Berks Mont Newspapers.

10 Reactions
  1. I must admit that I am not really good at thinking of memes. Whoever thought about this is brilliant and I must say that I cannot come up with it. If you are planning to use memes for your business, I highly suggest that you come up with a team and brainstorm. But that is only you are planning to use social media as a main marketing channel.

  2. Strike quick! Memes die as quickly as they spring to life!

  3. I agree with Jennifer, with memes you have to strike quickly. I would also like to add that certain memes are only relevant to certain topics. Like scumbag steve memes would only be relevant if you are talking about someone bad you met and not be good if you were promoting something good about yourself.

  4. Great post! I love memes and I try to use them in my blog as a visual aid whenever I can. Thanks!

  5. This is a great post on lessons using memes. I have been using GIFs more in my blog posts and Google+ updates. Similar to memes, as I typically use a funny one and it’s a quick video-like image.

    It’s great on Google+ updates as it is moving and grabs your attention. I wish Facebook allowed GIFs.

  6. Totally agree with 7. I think it’s best to just go with the flow and above all, have fun creating it. That way, regardless of whether it goes viral or not, you’ve gotten something out of it (including experience).