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Boost Your Gen Z Marketing with this Ad Engagement Secret

What's more effective? A stylish, beautiful ad that doesn't quite hit the mark with your audience, or a less aesthetically pleasing ad that your audience engage with?

Our statistics show that it's almost always the latter. It doesn't have to be a binary, but more often the ads that feel polished and finessed are actually more quickly to be identified as ads by the audience, and therefore less likely to result in conversions.

If you want to reach out to an audience, you need to speak their language. One of the best ways to do this when it comes to Gen Z is by harnessing the power of memes.

If you don't know what memes are, you could think of them as the visual language of social media. Gen Z share memes with their friends, and go online for this kind of communication. So it makes perfect sense that in order to combat ad fatigue and really engage with them, we need to speak their language.

It may not be the most stylish of strategies, but it works.

Even big brands like Gucci are jumping on the bandwagon. And, here at Fanbytes, we've great success using memes in our own ad campaigns. By using platform-native pre-roll, incorporating a meme at the beginning of an ad, we increased engagement (specifically, click through rate) by 50%. Here are some example of the kind of meme-heavy content we use to drive increased engagement:


By harnessing a viral trend, you can immediately grab your audience's attention, and speak to them on a level that resonates with them.

Of course, riding on the success of a meme is not without its pitfalls. A meme that's outdated or used incorrectly – that is, in a way that suggests the creator doesn't get the joke behind it – can lead to a misfire, and make the ad, and the brand, appear inauthentic. You should still proceed with caution.

Take the time to understand why your audience are on the platform you are targeting (Snapchat, Instagram, and so on) – what they find funny there, what they like watching – and incorporate this style into your own content. No one likes to feel that their platform has become swamped with ads. Unless, of course, that ad is something you would have wanted to watch anyway.

So, how do you make meme advertising work? The remainder of this article should tell you everything you need to know to begin seeing improved results when targeting your adverts at Generation Z.

What is a meme?

When someone refers to a meme, they most likely mean an image which has gone viral online. Most memes are accompanied by some kind of caption, and most memes try – at least – to be funny.

The principal reasons that memes are created and shared is as a witty response to some kind of event or conversation – public or private. The larger the event or the more applicable the meme is to multiple contexts, the more likely it is to go viral. And, of course, a meme’s popularity is strongly linked to how funny and memorable it is.

Where can I find them?

If you’re not already on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook, these platforms are where memes become popular. If you want to get serious you should consider frequenting some of the lesser known meme havens. Reddit has numerous sub-reddits devoted to the topic, and a true meme connoisseur may trawl sites like 9gag, 4chan, and to stay on trend.

How do brands use memes?

Though memes (in some form or other) have been around since the dawn of the internet, it is only in the last decade or so that the word meme has come to describe a fairly specific form of, well, art.

The use of memes in branded content is, however, a relatively new thing. That’s because brands are nervous of memes misrepresenting them, and they are nervous that they don’t understand the format.

I would argue that the first reason for trepidation shouldn’t be cause for concern, but the second should.

Memes provide a potential goldmine for online engagement, and they’re more likely to go viral than any other kind of online marketing. But they are dangerous territory for those who are out of the loop. If your branded meme makes it look like you’ve missed the joke, or it just isn’t funny, then you’re not just missing the mark: you’re making your brand look out-of-touch and – worst of all – uncool. No brand aimed at teenagers wants that status.

Big brands

Recently, Gucci caused a stir by going all-in on a branded meme campaign. They commissioned several hundred designers to create memes around the launch of a new watch.


Whatever you think about the content itself, the campaign as a whole presents a bit of a mismatch: Gucci’s ideal consumers are probably not the sort of people most likely to appreciate its memes. But – more crucially – few teenagers have $790 (£760) spare to spend on a watch.

Maybe Gucci saw the move primarily as a PR opportunity, generating brand awareness among an audience some time before they can afford its products.

What can we learn from Gucci? For now, associating memes with a big brand is novel enough to create a PR storm.

Second, Gucci made a lot of memes: the number of likes each received on Instagram demonstrates that some hit the mark, and others did not.

How to hit the mark

Ironically, for something that might appear to be created and distributed in a highly chaotic way, each meme has its own rules. Chances are, if you don’t play by the rules when making your meme, it won’t be funny.

The problem, for marketers who aren’t young enough to be meme-natives, is that the rules aren’t always obvious.

If you’re worried that this might be you, you could either employ a meme-savvy creator, or else you should test your meme it on at least a few people from your target audience before you send it out on your company’s channels.

Doge: a case study

The doge meme arose because of this picture of a Shiba Inu dog. (For the record, nobody knows how “doge” is supposed to be pronounced, so do your worst).


In the meme, this picture is surrounded by text, written in colorful comic sans text, and consisting of several varieties of atrocious spelling and grammar, like so:


It’s sort-of awful and sort-of great, and the internet loves it. Here are some examples of ways people fit the meme to suit their own jokes and contexts. These memes work so well because, despite applying the meme to a new context, the follow enough of the established rules to keep their content funny.


Though “Windoge 8” was certainly not created by a Windows employee, this is also a great piece of meme marketing: this popular meme undoubtedly brought more attention to the Windows update to a younger audience less likely to hear about the update via traditional advertising.

Final word

Some marketers we’ve worked with worry that using memes feels a bit like a "black hat" strategy. They do not often represent a high-quality, finessed art form like a lot of traditional advertising, and – in terms of the quality of the visuals – they may appear to have more in common with the kind of horrible, clickbait ads that tell you about this one woman in Haslemere who is hated by doctors because of her anti-aging secret.

Any similarity here is purely superficial. While those ads are aggressive and intrusive, using memes is the opposite. If done well, they represent content which people want to see and share. More importantly, brands who use memes well seem much more in touch with their audience. And that means more clicks, more installs, and more purchases.

At Fanbytes, we began preceding our ads with a pre-roll that used memes, instead of a video pre-roll which resembled the ad. On average we saw 50% higher engagement with the ad, and in many cases the difference was even more dramatic!

For example, memes paid off in a big way as part of our strategy to market the app Oevo. We were able to reduce Oevo’s cost per install by eight times, and a key part of our new strategy was the introduction of memes.


If you’d like to talk to an expert about how you can use memes as part of your marketing strategy, please feel free to schedule an appointment by clicking the button below:

Schedule a Call with a Gen Z Marketing Expert

Bret Cameron

Head of Marketing

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