Oh hi dad, welcome to the disco: memes in ads
Here’s a trend we could all have done without: internet memes plucked from the web and slapped, contextless and out-of-place, on ads.
By far the worst offender here is Virgin Media’s new campaign by 18 Feet & Rising (sorry BBH, someone in the comments corrected me!), using the ‘Success Kid’ photo:
(Image courtesy of Gene Hunt)
Oh and here’s O2 using the very same image on their Facebook page:
Another recent offender – Ritz Crackers:
So how does this happen?
It goes like this. Mr Person works in the creative department of an ad agency, and is a big internet geek. He knows about and likes memes, and rarely sees anything in mainstream culture that reflects them well (articles about planking in the Telegraph six months after it died do not count). So when he’s creating concepts for whatever brand he happens to be working on, he thinks “Wouldn’t it be cool if they used X meme? It fits here” and puts it in his idea.
But what he forgets is this: when someone walks past that ad, they don’t see the cool creative person who came up with it. They see a big, hairy Virgin Media logo and a sales message. And those things together just don’t work.
Plus, with the amount of time it takes to make an ad, it’s been months since that meme was relevant, resulting in even more of a late-to-the-party vibe.
Memes come from of a mindset of having fun and creating things for the sake of it. Ads come from a mindset of needing a vehicle for a sales message. And when the latter uses the former, it pollutes that innocent fun with self-interest, taking something that had group ownership and using it for their own ends.
And what happens when your client says “OK, the Success Kid ad was a huge hit, we want to make him a brand spokesperson”? You can’t, because Success Kid is no longer a toddler but a school-age child, and you only ever had one photo of him. You didn’t even do a shoot that you can take leftover images from.
This sort of thing is fucking lazy, and a big risk. Piggybacking on existing social currency means the idea didn’t originate with the brand/their agency and therefore isn’t controllable or ownable. This is how we ended up with two competing businesses using the exact same image. Where’s the branding? Slapping a logo onto something you found on the internet doesn’t make it yours, especially when it’s been around for years and has its own preconceptions.
Preconceptions like the fact that memes are made to be mixed and re-mixed. Which means thousands of versions of Success Kid already exist, many of them with captions that Virgin Media probably wouldn’t want associated with their brand:
And brilliantly, that happens even when you stick the meme on a billboard:
Serves them right, to be honest.