Vinay Kanchan
Guest Article

I have a joke on brand communication…

… but there’s no budget for it. What lessons can brand marketers derive from this kind of ‘memetic activity’?

Recently, I came across this meme on social media; you’ve probably seen versions of it many times already.

“I have a joke on, but...”

I was preparing for an important presentation, and needing a distraction to get kick-started, I dived right in and churned out a few… okay more than a few. Here’s some of my contributions to this meme conversation.

‘I have a joke on Darwin. But it’s still evolving. I have a joke about editors. But it won’t make the cut. I have a joke on Aryabhata. But I am likely to get zero credit for it. I have a joke about Monday. But it typically called in sick. I have a joke on capitalism. But it wants money to appear. I have a joke about Mount Everest. But you have to be really high to get it. I had wanted to share a joke on Rajnikanth. But it ended up sharing me, instead.’

Vinay Kanchan
Vinay Kanchan

Try it. It’s a great mental warm up. You can thank me later.

Not only did it trigger my thinking on the presentation, it made for some very fun interactions on social media. It also caused many on my timeline, several from professions other than marketing or media, to take up the baton and produce some of their own.

But, I digress.

The point here, beyond the interesting corollary of always having something cerebrally light on the side, when engaging in more challenging mental work, is around what makes things viral these days. And by exploring this line of thought further, what lessons can brand marketers derive from this kind of ‘memetic activity’?

That conversation needs to be contextualised with some of the trends I have observed in the lockdown period. These taken together make for some pertinent pointers, the branding world probably needs to take cognizance of going forward.

The audience has turned the remote on themselves

There is a memorable line enthusiastically put forth by Geet (essayed wonderfully by actress Kareena Kapoor) in that breezy film ‘Jab We Met’. She says, in response to no one in particular asking, “Main khud ki favourite person hoon”. And that kind of sums up what has happened during the lockdown.

At a time when self-appreciation was anyways on the rise, when a lot of television entertainment was forced into a phase of reruns, people rediscovered their own creative sides. The amount of articles, blogs, pictures and videos being posted rose to unprecedented levels. The number of people going ‘live’, feeling comfortable uploading their songs or starting their own pages, rose faster than mask and sanitiser stocks running out.

People probably came to the conclusion that the best thing to watch on screen was themselves. Many began worshipping the celebrity within. In several decades, when the retrospective lens might be called into action, this lockdown phase might well be identified as the critical tipping point as far as general public uploaded content goes.

The time for ‘open source’ communication is upon us

Linus Torvalds is one of the most underappreciated tech legends. He ushered in a liberating openness in culture, at a time when being obsessed with others copying from your examination paper or design seemed to be the norm.

The idea of ‘open source’ functioning was to allow users to participate in creation. This is going to become particularly more relevant in brand communication now.

First, because budgets - those ever oppressive numerical checkpoints - are going to get increasingly reduced. In that scenario, leveraging customers as potential communication platforms makes all the more sense.

Second, as mentioned above, consumers are going to want to have their own say in brand communication. The more they can participate, the deeper they will engage and evangelize things.

Third, the credibility of the public promoting something is a lot more. Let me make that a lot, lot more. Think back to the social media storm caused by Mark Manson’s first book. Reflect on how many voluntarily posted pictures posing with it. Trust me, nothing subtle happened to sales after that.

Set up a creative construct which is easy to participate in

Creativity is frequently described as the exploration of new ideas. But creativity in brand communication often juggles a paradox. It has to appear new, while still retaining some fundamentally familiar elements. This is because a brand essentially represents a template of a certain set of expectations, values and benefits the audience is already acquainted with.

However, as of now, most brand stories don't naturally make for audience participation. That might have to change, going forward. Getting the consumer more involved in communication creation and brand evangelism has to become a marketing priority. This might only happen when structural templates which reinforce the brand, and yet allow for consumers to express their creative sides, are released into the public space.

The meme, which began the article, is a classic case in point. Every new addition, reinforces it, and inspires newer participants. Some might feel this accession of communication control, might lead to some poor creative expressions. Yes, that might be the case. But the distance between the brand and the hearts of consumers also could be reduced, because nothing appeals more than something that feels genuine. To borrow a term from the startup revolution, it might now be all about crowd-sourcing communication as well.

To conclude, these are going to be challenging times to be sure. But there are also promising trends and insights about changing behaviours and mindsets that brand marketers can exploit. This might be the era of ‘open source’ communication. One just has to be open to that idea.

(Vinay Kanchan is a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst, and the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’.)