One does not simply create a marketing strategy out of thin air. When turning to memes and GIFs in your brand messaging, it pays off to do a little research. Who is your audience? Is the meme or GIF relevant, or are you just adding to the noise online? What is it doing for your brand? 

These are serious brand questions and, if you ignore them, you might just end up on the failed messaging list. Lucky for you, we’ve detailed the proper use of memes and GIFs in your branding strategy. Brace yourselves… 


First things first, what are memes and GIFs?

Memes and GIFs often get confused with each other in pop culture. Although similar, these two can have different uses and different impacts. 

In its most basic form, a meme is “an image, video, piece of text, etc. typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users.” Although memes can take the form of video, they are most often static images. These snippets of social commentary are typically humorous, playful, or satirical. They also often capitalize on current events, adding their angle or take on them. 

A GIF, on the other hand, is an animated image that plays in a circuit. Although there is some debate on the pronunciation (is it GIF or jif?), GIFs are like flipbooks with multiple images playing quickly to achieve an overall effect. Like memes, GIFs deal with socially relevant topics and “are a large part of internet culture.” 

For marketers, memes and GIFs are tools that can be used to further your point, enhance your messaging, and connect with a younger audience. When done correctly, they can make a mundane moment memorable (say that three times fast). 


Benefits of memes and GIFs

When you use these tools correctly in your branding strategy, it can make a positive impact on your brand. Some of these benefits include: 


Adding motion to your grid 

Most Instagram feeds are full of bright, static images. To break from this mold, brands are beginning to add movement to their grid in the form of videos and GIFs. Using animation (without overdoing it), “elevates an image from static to dynamic.” 

Utilizing psychology 

Sure, you might think GIFs and memes are funny and shallow. But there’s a science behind using them. As in the case of GIFs and other video formats, your brain processes a message 60,000 times faster with video than with text. Memes, which deal with current content, often have an inside joke feel. That “allows for some bonding between those sharing them.” You want your audience to know you’re in on the joke.    

Getting more impressions 

GIFs generate about 7 billion impressions per day. Imagine getting even a fraction of those impressions for your brand. With a GIF, you have the “opportunity for consumer brands to get more engaging, high-quality impressions with consumers than they could with billboards, TV commercials, or interruptive digital ads.” Plus, they’re infinitely shareable. 


Tips for using on social media 

The most common location for GIFs and memes is on social media––their natural habitat. On social, ideas can run wild and sprout wings. They can take a different direction than at first planned. Social is also where you can be playful with your brand messaging. Including the use of memes and GIFs. 

These tools often fall into the category of “short-form media.” As such, they should be used as an “additive to a user’s experience online without detracting from their support of the brand or business that produced it.” This means you should memes and gifs to complement your brand and get your message across in a better (maybe funnier) way. Both memes and GIFs are pieces of quick, relatable content. Some tips for using them in your brand messaging: 


Go custom when you can 

There are thousands of memes online that you can draw from. While the odds of you finding a meme to fit the idea you’re trying to make are good, it’s often smarter to create a custom meme. With a custom meme, you can “develop content that’s specific to your brand,” and more relevant to your audience. 

Keep it short and sweet 

Attention spans are short. Keep GIFs at a reasonable duration to avoid losing your audience’s attention. It’s also important to make sure the “size of the file is small enough to load quickly on mobile devices.” When files are too large or complicated, the load time can impact your message and frustrate your audience. Don’t be that brand. 

Don’t overdo it 

Just like other marketing tools, you can have too much of a good thing. If you decide to incorporate memes and GIFs into your branding strategy, make sure you share sparingly and only when relevant. The less you share, the more “truly valuable content” you curate. 

Staying relevant 

If you want to connect with younger audiences, you need to have an authentic understanding of pop culture. One way to do this is by creating a meme or GIF that’s relevant to your brand or makes fun of a known problem in your brand. Like MoonPie’s hyper-aware and hilarious tweets that don’t try to “convince you that their products will make you cool and fun and happy.” 

When sharing, make sure the meme or GIF enhances your brand messaging, makes sense for your audience, and “shows you share their sense of humor and sensibilities.” Overall, the best uses for GIFs and memes in your branding strategy are via social media marketing, community management, blogging, and email marketing. These outlets are where the above tips help your brand come to life.


When not to use them 

With marketing tools comes great responsibility––that’s how that quote goes, right? If you view memes and GIFs as the tools they are (albeit fun ones), you are setting yourself up for appropriate use of them. 

One of your biggest responsibilities as a marketer (and a human) is to stop the viral spread of negative memes. This does not necessarily include memes that might have a satirical angle or darker humor. Instead, it refers to memes that are racist, sexist, or offensive in any way. Of course, we all make mistakes. With the prevalence of memes and GIFs circulating on the internet, it’s no surprise that they are occasionally tone-deaf. If this happens to your brand, “it’s wise to immediately and broadly communicate a sincere apology.”

Memes and GIFs also require appropriate timing and alignment with your brand. Using these tools might make sense if you primarily use social media to connect with your audience, if you cater to Millennials and Gen-Zers, or if your brand persona is humorous or satirical. Because memes and GIFs are usually entertaining, using them “depends on the nature of the service you provide––if you’re a divorce law firm or a funeral parlor, it’s probably not appropriate.” 


Examples of brands doing it right 

Some brands, like Google, are obvious contenders in the meme-sharing department. Others are surprising their audiences with the right meme or GIF at the right time. 



Denny’s Diner is arguably an American classic. Yet, with more food choices than ever, they’ve had to find new ways to stay relevant and relate to a younger audience. Their “Risk It for the Biscuit” and Conversation Eggs Instagram posts were custom memes that played on classic concepts. Both ads inserted humor into their brand and took the diner conversation a little further. 

The Great British Bake Off 

A cult favorite, The Great British Bake Off became popular with American audiences as well after debuting on Netflix. The baking competition series is very active on Twitter and uses animated GIFs and those created from “looping, captioned clips straight from the show.” In addition to being on-brand with their colors and dry humor, they also help to inform their audiences with show updates. 


Netflix is known for being playful and a little snarky online. Their @netflixisajoke account on Instagram focuses solely on meme-marketing that “makes memes out of their own shows instead of using the already viral templates.” The benefit of these memes is twofold––to strengthen the brand purpose and increase viewership. 


Starbucks is highly active on social media, where it connects with most of its younger audience members. The coffee juggernaut often creates GIFs of their Frappuccino brand that users can apply to their accounts and Stories.  


And brands that are missing the mark 

Brands that miss the mark often do because they are sharing overused memes, those that aren’t relevant to their brand, or are attempting humor where it doesn’t make sense. 



The flavored chip company typically delivers on hilarious, unconventional ads. But their attempt to create memes using their chips “miss the point of memes because they depend on already existing tropes.” Their Dorito-turned-guitar-pick and Dorito snow angel memes were an “unconvincing attempt” at humor and did nothing to further the brand messaging. 


Wendy’s Twitter account has become known for its snarky, hilarious tweets and responses. Yet, they took their brand relevance a step too far with their “Like a Boss” spot. The TV ad featured an on-screen meme (with the classic white block letters) that played on the “outdated” Like a Boss meme. The response on social was less than favorable


As a high-end brand, Gucci could easily stay away from memes, and it would make sense. The fashion brand used “international meme creators” for their #TFWGucci campaign that strayed from Gucci’s typical marketing. Memes like “When your girl doesn’t notice your new watch” and “When she asks u what time it is but u wanna flex so u let her see for herself,” were “met with countless requests for the brand to ‘please stop.’” 

Anti-Smoking Campaign

Despite being a PSA brand against smoking, their attempt at relating to a younger audience was a major misstep. In their “Smoking Memes (It’s a Trap)” spot, they “hired a bunch of YouTube stars…to get memed at after they make ignorant claims about casual smoking.” In what is supposed to be a serious ad, the brand essentially made the entire thing a meme (in a bad way). 


What about emojis? 

Emojis could be considered the younger cousin of memes and GIFs. Engineer Shigetaka Kurita developed the emoji in 1998 “for customers to communicate through icons.” Scroll through any social media account or even your messages, and you will likely run into a fair share of emojis along the way.  

A study by Emogi “found that people utilize emojis because they believe it helps them to be better understood, and to create more personal connections. What’s more, research shows that people respond to emojis “as they would react to a human face.” 

When brands want to integrate emojis into their branding strategy, they usually do it in social posts or comments and replies to their audience members on social platforms. The tricks here are to keep emoji use simple, don’t overuse them, and make sure you know what the emoji expresses. The other benefit? “Emojis aren’t bound by language barriers” so you can potentially reach a wider audience. 


Where to source memes and GIFs

Okay, now that you understand the basics, how do you go about sourcing a meme, GIF, or emoji?

If you decide to use meme marketing, you can download directly from free-use memes through sites like Know Your Meme and 9Gag. To create a custom meme, you can source from these sites and add your spin or go through Canva or Photoshop to start from scratch. 

Many GIF databases, like Giphy, are integrated with apps and social networks for easy use. You can also create a custom GIF through Giphy and Tenor to keep messaging aligned with your brand. 

Emojis, of course, are located on most modern keyboards or apps. If you decide to create a custom emoji, you can do so with your in house designer or a digital marketing agency


Meme-marketing and GIF giving 

Memes and GIFs can be incredibly useful and playful marketing tools. They have the power to connect and bond with your audience when used appropriately. They can also add some humor and humanity to your brand. When considering using a meme, GIF, or emoji in your branding strategy, always ask yourself: Does this help my brand? If the answer is yes, happy meme-making!