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Memes: The witty take on reality

Our online culture is flooded with memes. They are omnipresent and so powerful that entire communities form around them, where people can simply feel good, share a laugh, or unite during turbulent times. Indeed, “turbulent times” is an apt descriptor, as memes help us navigate and make sense of our complex modern society through humor. They combine linguistic and visual elements that symbolically reflect reality, which makes them highly relatable and allows them to spread rapidly online, garnering billions of shares and likes. 

Memes demonstrate that others feel similarly to us. This creates a feel of belonging and community, which, in turn, provides a sense of meaning. They are even influencing the emergence of new forms of language, subcultures, and aesthetic trends. The significance of this impact has led to the creation of the transmedia project “Meme Manifesto”, which aims to equip people with tools to understand and mobilise the power of memes to promote a new, equitable future. This includes “The Iceberg“, an immersive journey through the layers of meme culture — an experience you can easily lose yourself in (definitely check it out)!

The immense potential of memes to connect with people has obviously also not gone unnoticed by companies. Duolingo, a playful language learning app, has capitalised on users’ complaints about its intrusive notifications by turning its green owl mascot, Duo, into an internet sensation. Memes featuring Duo humorously and threateningly prompt users to interact with the app. 

However, creating memes can backfire if done incorrectly. Companies often desperately try to jump on the meme bandwagon for easy attention, regardless of relevance — a mistake. It is crucial to understand the underlying cultural context of a meme and assess its relevance to the company. Failure to do so can result in damaging backlash, as seen with DiGiorno Pizza’s self-promoting use of the hashtag #WhyIStayed, which was meant to support domestic violence survivors—ouch!

To avoid such missteps, it’s crucial to draw a fine line between funny and embarrassing. Monitor current discussions about socially significant topics, create relatable memes, and avoid being overly promotional. Gen Z, for instance, has a keen sense of authenticity and will quickly dismiss shameless self-promotion. Instead, ensure your memes are genuinely funny and relevant to your brand to connect effectively with your audience. 

And now, don’t be afraid to experiment—embracing creativity can set your brand apart in the dynamic world of meme culture!

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Julius Tami

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Kim Pillen

Consultant

Before Kim Pillen started as a trend consultant at TrendsActive, she worked for four years as a creative strategist at Dept. For brands such as Philips, bol.com, Beiersdorf, JBL, and the Consumers’ Association, she built (online) campaign, brand, and social media strategies. After four years, she decided that she wanted to better understand people and society in order to advise brands more effectively. That’s how she ended up at TrendsActive. Here, she can do what she loves most: digging into people’s needs and then working with brands to see how and where they can be relevant and meaningful.

Douwe Knijff

Researcher

Douwe is fascinated by how people work. With a background in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences (Bachelor) and Psychology (Master) and an analytical mind he tries figure out how societal shifts manifest themselves through social culture and human behaviour.

Aljan De Boer

Keynote speaker

Aljan has been widely recognized as an inspiring professional speaker on the critical trends that will shape society in the decades to come. He works as the Head of Inspiration at TrendsActive, a trend consultancy from the Netherlands using social science to human-proof business decision for brands like

  • Disney
  • Vodafone
  • Hugo Boss
  • ASR
  • Rabobank

Next to his role at TrendsActive he is the Community Director at the Institute for Real Growth where he inspires and connects a global community of +400 CMOs.  

He has been on the board of the Dutch Platform of Innovative Marketing for almost a decade. Regular speaker and moderator for the Dutch Marketing Awards and 3 times winner of the best of MIE. 

Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist

Kees his purpose is to help ambitious leaders and brands to human-proof their business. In 2003 he founded TrendsActive, a trend consultancy enabling brands to become more human centric.

Kees consults global brands like

  • Disney
  • The Coca-Cola Company
  • Asics
  • Discovery Channel
  • Swiss Life
  • Vodafone

and many more.

Next to being the founder of TrendsActive, he is also initiator of the first academic trend master for executives at the University of Utrecht and is initiator of various trend studies and white papers on subjects like trust, meaning, visual culture & generations.

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Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist

Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist