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To post or not to post?—that was the question Manischewitz’s social media managers asked before they tweeted the brand’s rendition of the popular “Little Miss” meme.
This particular joke entails creating hyper-specific characters based on the “Mr. Men” and “Little Miss” children’s book series. The kosher foods company saw an opportunity to share its niche products with a young cohort of unfamiliar consumers. The results were tweets introducing “Little Miss Loves Borscht” and “Mr. Can’t Wait for Gefilte Dogs.”
“Our job is to ensure that a 130-year-old brand speaks to a generation that will say, ‘They’re not my bubbe and zayde’s holiday brand—they’re relevant to me,’” said Elie Rosenfeld, CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, which handles social media for Manischewitz. “Bubbe” and “zayde” are the Yiddish words for “grandmother” and “grandfather,” respectively.
Little Miss Loves Borscht. pic.twitter.com/48Rj05fP7y
There seems to be a new meme nearly every day that captivates the internet, but brands must be selective about when to join the conversation. Too many meme posts can earn a brand the reputation of being a “shitposter”—one who makes worthless, often poor-quality posts online—and merely spacing out their participation won’t save them from the public shaming of a bad joke. With the added pressure of having literally millions of users who are keen at sniffing out cringe, the stakes are higher—and trickier to navigate—than they may appear.
Recent meme trends have rekindled the importance that brands must place on deciding when and how to activate online jokes. The “American Girl doll” meme, another format that entails creating a character out of a hyper-specific experience or trait, has been leveraged by marketers from Dunkin’ to PETA to OKCupid. UPS tweeted one too, but instead of prompting laughs, it effectively became a forum for people to lodge general complaints about the company. In the comment section, several users took the chance to criticize UPS’ customer service, while others took shots at its delivery process.
The “He’s a 10 but…” meme has also been popular with brands, although for a joke that hinges on making light of a dating world that is actually full of serious problems, there is little room for error.
“It takes a lot of gut,” said Rosenfeld. “There needs to be a gut feeling about what is going to resonate and what’s going to feel right for the brand.”
A meme, like any joke, has an intended audience, and the larger the crossover between that group and a brand’s own target audience, the more likely a meme post will land.
For example, the “Little Miss” meme has resonated primarily with Gen Z users, said Sam Hobson Fairman, founder and CEO of creative agency Sauce Media Group. This means that brands serving this demographic may have an easier time playing into the trend.
HBO Max and NBC Entertainment—both media companies that have strong Gen Z audiences—posted “Little Miss” memes of their own, as did Starbucks.
But even brands that cater to other generations don’t necessarily have to sit out for this kind of meme. These marketers will only need to tweak their posts in order to still speak the language of their target consumers, said Hobson Fairman. A heavy dose of self-awareness, perhaps even self-deprecation, reflected in the actual post, could boost the resonance for those wondering why the brand is posting in the first place.
“Make it make sense for your audience,” Hobson Fairman said.
Another way to be cautiously selective is for brands to embrace memes that match the tone or personality of their previous marketing. Consider Wendy’s, which tweeted “They’re a 10 but they say they’re lovin’ it.” The effort is risky in two ways: It enters the brand into a conversation that is all about naming negative character flaws—an easy way to ostracize fans—and it not so subtly takes a shot at a competitor (in this case, McDonald’s). But Wendy’s isn’t new to an irreverent marketing style. Its Twitter account is known for teasing people, culminating in an annual effort for “National Roast Day,” where it lambasts any brand brave enough to step into its sights.
“First and foremost, [our participation in memes] is about knowing who we are as a brand … so when we notice a popular meme or trend that resonates with who we are, and who our audience is, that’s where we lean in,” wrote Kristin Tormey, social media and gaming manager for Wendy’s, in an email.
They’re a 10 but they say they’re lovin’ it 🧐
Rosenfeld emphasized the importance of sticking around after the initial meme post and being active in the comment section in order to maximize the interaction with consumers. Manischewitz spends anywhere between the next 36 and 72 hours replying to people’s reactions, he said, adding that the extended conversation element may make Twitter a better place for meme posts than Instagram or TikTok—neither of which have as active of a comment section.
The purpose of a meme is not about driving a sale, but rather positioning the brand in a positive light for consumers, said Rosenfeld.
Echoing this sentiment, Hobson Fairman touched on a concept that perhaps best illustrates why a brand should consider using memes in its social media marketing: “What is your unique spin that is going to get people to say, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel so seen’?”
Feeling seen is that moment of connection when a person recognizes their own experience reflected through a piece of content. Recent memes like “Little Miss” and “American Girl doll” have been especially conducive to this response, owing to their format, which calls for creating a persona based on a specific experience or trait.
For the “American Girl doll” meme, Dunkin’ tweeted a rendition that went: “we need an American girl doll whose entire personality is iced coffee.” The post was a hit with consumers, in large part thanks to the cult-like status of Dunkin’s iced coffee. The tweet prompted numerous replies of assent, such as “I am that doll,” “Put me in coach” and a single emoji of a hand raised as a volunteer.
“We always aim to evoke a ‘that’s so me’ reaction from our followers—if we get that and our fans feel seen, it’s a win in our book,” wrote Kemma Kefalas, brand engagement manager at Dunkin’, in an email.
we need an American girl doll whose entire personality is iced coffee
The inverse response to feeling seen—unrelatability, or even feeling targeted—could be disastrous for a brand. This is why the “He’s a 10 but…” meme may have been such a tricky line to walk, said Hobson Fairman.
To navigate these more irreverent formats, brands shouldn’t be afraid to switch things around in order to make their posts more positive, she said. For example, influencer Kyyah Abdul posted a version of “He’s a 10 but…” that went: “He’s a 3 but your family loves him.” Brands following suit in this direction would be able to achieve a more inclusive post than a brand that opted for the original format.
“You’re basically saying your product makes someone better, not, ‘without [my] product, it makes someone worse,’” said Hobson Fairman.
Brands will need to stay on top of the evolving formats of memes, ensuring that their participation is not only sensical but also a worthy addition to the conversation. Forcing a meme post for the sake of “doing a meme” will not win anyone over, said Hobson Fairman.
A meme has already been making the rounds that takes aim at this very behavior often committed by brands. It shows recent meme trends slashed down by a bloody scythe, like names on a hit list. In this joke, the brand is the grim reaper.
In this article:
Asa Hiken is a technology reporter covering digital marketing, social media platforms and innovation. A graduate of Northwestern University, he joined Ad Age after writing for Marketing Dive, where he focused on the alcohol space and digital privacy.