Type the keyword “meme” to Indeed or Google Jobs, and you’ll find more than 50 listings. While most people never considered creating memes to be a productive habit (let alone a full-time job), businesses like Jumbo, Doing Things Media, and The Perfect Jean do. And now, they’re looking for “professional trolls” who can generate viral tweets for their accounts.
These irreverent brands are proof that the traditional social media strategy—share your latest work, promote company news, absolutely don’t rock the boat—isn’t for everyone. In foregoing the well-beaten path to double down on memes, they’re amassing millions of followers and impressions. What can they teach you about the power of memes?
Back in 2018, the Instagram page for Slim Jim was totally stale, boasting fewer than 10,000 followers and publishing sanitized, corporate content. But the product still had a loyal audience on the Internet, and a fan took advantage before the brand itself did. Comedian and Slim Jim enthusiast Andy Hines started @SlimJimsDoingThings, an account exclusively dedicated to memes based on the infamous meat sticks, geared towards the fan group that he called the “Long Boi Gang.” Inspired by Hines’ success, Conagra Brands (its parent company) said if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and offered Hines a job to run Slim Jim’s actual IG.
Armed with his surreal, extremely-online memes for the brand’s youthful target audience, Hines quickly grew the account by over 500,000 followers, and today, Slim Jim has around 1.5 million. Although Hines tragically passed away in 2020, the brand continues to produce memes in his honor.
Since AMC’s stock was memed into superstardom during early 2021’s financial frenzy, the storied movie theater brand has completely changed its social media strategy.
“You’re going to see a lot more outreach to literally millions of investors in our company, and it’s going to be quite public,” said CEO Adam Aron on one of the company’s recent earnings calls. “Just go on Twitter, just go on Reddit, just go on YouTube. Read what these people write. They love AMC.”
Redditors participating in the meme stock frenzy adopted a phrase from the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes as a sort of motto: “Apes together strong.” Without missing a beat, AMC put up a massive billboard in NYC with that phrase hashtagged, along with another refrain from the brand’s frenzied fanbase: “We love the stock.” And last fall, AMC took the joke one step further: the brand announced on Twitter that proceeds from some purchases would benefit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society. Memes can do a little more than entertain, after all.
There’s no more serious business than war, and for one country, memes are the modern airdropped leaflet. Ukraine is currently under attack by armed forces from Russia; while soldiers and citizen volunteers fight off the invasion, social media managers use Ukraine’s official Twitter account to wage a different kind of battle.
The account regularly shares popular memes fit for Ukraine’s ongoing reality, and while some see them as inappropriately light-hearted for the dire situation, others, like Fred Cook, the director of the USC Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, see it differently.
“It reflects the fact that Ukraine has very limited power and very few ways to defend themselves,” Cook said in an interview with Protocol. “They are using the common language of the internet to tell their story to the west, where people aren’t very knowledgeable about the situation in Ukraine.”
So no, it’s not a joke—for Ukraine, memes might represent one major key to long-term survival.
When we seemed to lose everything in 2020, we still had memes. During the early days of the pandemic, some brands started to realize they weren’t paying close enough attention to their audiences’ online activity. Bud Light was one of them, and to help promote a new spiked seltzer, the brand hired its very first Chief Meme Officer. Within a day, the company received over 6,000 applications for the position.
According to the Shorty Awards, honoring the best in social media, Bud Light saw its Instagram engagement grow by 33 percent in 2020, and its merch sales increased by nearly 200 percent. According to Mike Vitiello, social content director at Wieden+Kennedy, Bud Light has always seen itself as a comedic brand, and it felt the need to have a CMO to respond to cultural trends in real time.
In 2017, Netflix created a separate Twitter account strictly to promote its comedies. And what better way to build buzz around funny content than with memes?
This side venture, dubbed “Netflix Is a Joke,” now has millions of followers across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The accounts routinely poke fun at users and the brand’s own programming, participating in trends that arise from its most popular shows. Due to the success of the comedic campaign, Netflix has taken it a step further to bring the comedy out from behind the screen: in April, its first-ever Netflix Is a Joke Fest will feature over 100 shows at 25 venues over 11 days in Los Angeles.
Since ad agency EP+Co took over the social strategy for the Denny’s brand in 2013, the diner chain has gained a reputation as a meme master. The Denny’s team meets daily to review any meaningful events happening that day. And when Denny’s sees a cultural moment happening online, it dives in headfirst. Sometimes, that aggressive approach comes back to bite the brand, as can happen to any volume Tweeter. But in all, Denny’s knows how to insert itself into any viral moment.
“It’s really all been rooted in [Denny’s] positioning as America’s diner,” says Kevin Purcer, EP+Co’s former director of digital strategy (currently working at Chick-fil-A). “It’s about… the little conversations that might not mean a lot at the surface level that you might have in a Denny’s booth with your friends and family. But, when you look back at your life, those might be the moments you enjoy the most.”