Avoid These 3 Common Meme Marketing Mistakes

Sarah Kincius
June 25, 2019

If the Internet were like a dine-in restaurant, memes would be the appetizers.

Sampled in wide varieties and easily shared among others, a meme is a quick morsel of online entertainment made to satisfy its customers in an instant.

Though thousands of web users enjoy memes en masse, things can get pretty dicey when companies want to get their own fill—especially if said companies end up biting off more than they can chew.

Using memes can be an effective way to communicate your brand and connect with your target audience. If you choose or change certain memes in poor taste, however, the results can be far from appetizing.

Want to market with memes well? Don’t overlook these 3 food-based flubs posted to the social media of these restaurants.


Outdated memes ― IHOP 


IHOP meme about pancakes

All memes have a shelf life, albeit an indefinite one.

As soon as any meme goes viral, its relevance will keep for only so long, lasting a few months, weeks, or even days. In other words, memes can go stale fast, and you don’t want to serve your audience what isn’t fresh.

IHOP made that mistake when they copied a meme that peaked more than two years prior to tweeting the above. And (though not to batter them with too much criticism) their attempt fell flatter than a pancake.

From a consumer’s perspective, capitalizing on old memes makes a brand seem out of touch (which IHOP was until they became a meme themselves).

If memes have expired, don’t exploit them: nobody ever has time for that.

Uncreative memes ― Olive Garden

Olive Garden meme about breadsticks

Bae: the grossly prolific meme that too many companies (over)used before anything else.

Olive Garden’s take on this popular acronym was definitely among the worst. Because breadsticks can’t be spelled without “bad,” “sad,” or “ick,” deeming “bae” as the three-letter word most worthy of note was more trying than trendy.

Not that Olive Garden really cares, as they’ve recycled this meme repeatedly over the past five years.

While it’s important to make sure a meme of interest is up-to-date, it’s more important to be selective when choosing one. Once a meme match is made, take the time to create an original rendition that sticks (and that doesn’t mean posting pictures of breadsticks every other day).

Misused memes ― McDonald’s

McDonald's meme

Ignoring the basic ingredients of a meme is a recipe for disaster.

Though the current McDonald’s food philosophy advocates for a “less is more” approach, the same shouldn’t apply to their digital marketing strategy.

The version of the meme this UK division tried to replicate wasn’t fully cooked (or well done) and really didn’t make much sense upon posting.

What do barbers have to do with burgers? Rather than convince customers to eat at one of their many locations, Mickey D’s ended up eating their own tweeted words after they were criticized for pandering to the youth.

It’s simple: before making a meal out of a meme, commit to learning its not-so-secret formula. If you don’t, it’s guaranteed that your intended viewers won’t be lovin’ it.


Successful memes ― Denny’s

Want an example of a restaurant that always cooks up some good memes? Look no further than Denny’s.

America’s diner often concocts their meme masterpieces à la mode; they’ve found a perfect balance between catering to what’s hip and maintaining their brand’s integrity.

Don’t believe us? Take a closer look at one of their viral pancake memes from 2017 (IHOP, take notes):

Denny's meme zoom in on the syrup

Click here to view this meme in its entirety

The aloof tone used in this meme along with its effortlessly unique delivery left hundreds of thousands of viewers hungry for more.

While memes are one of Denny’s specialties, they aren’t afraid to experiment in the content kitchen. Original content overwhelms Denny’s social channels; from bizarrely photoshopped images to the wittiest copy posted daily, Denny’s keeps its consumers engaged and, moreover, excited to see all of what they plan to dish out next.

Chew on this

Feed your feeds the right way: with quality content.

Memes are a treat when prepared well, but they aren’t worth the trouble if marketers aren’t willing to learn, whether from the online blunders of others or their own.

If your marketing strategy has a taste for memes, we hope you consider all this as food for thought.

Feeling hungry after reading this blog post? Grab a snack and check out more nutritious PSM content. These articles on 5 social media mistakes businesses make and 5 tips to spice up your Facebook ad copy can make the perfect first course.

Sarah Kincius

Sarah Kincius is a Naperville resident and student at Loyola University Chicago. She loves going to the Green Mill to read whatever’s etched on the bathroom stalls (and to listen to the music, of course). Sarah is currently teaching herself Italian from a book she found in Wisconsin.

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