Discover more from Embedded
Millennial meme marketing must end
I won’t let future generations remember us this way.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
That feeling when you clap back at the brands. —Kate
Subscribe to Embedded if you hate Mondays:
There’s a bit in John Early’s recent comedy special, Now More Than Ever, that has stuck with me ever since I watched it in June.
“When we’re loading up the time capsule for the inhabitants of Planet E, is this what the millennial shall put forth?” he asks, referring to Instagram infographics, taco illustrations, and the like. He goes on to skewer a Postmates campaign from a few years ago that included slogans like “Don’t let breakfast bully you into putting your pants on” and “When you want omakase but your bra’s off.” Or perhaps the worst offender, which he saw while driving past a billboard: “Hate people? We get it. Postmates.”
“Are we like that?” he implores the audience. “Are we really just a bunch of hot messes? Like, ‘I’m such a mess. I ordered cupcakes again. I took a nap by accident’…[Given] our contributions to language, as a generation, we should be tried at the Hague.”
I loved this, but not because I think it accurately encapsulates millennials. Instead, it captures the specific and relentless way that advertising has co-opted internet creativity while completely misunderstanding it. The same way men thinking about the Roman Empire isn’t really a thing, or that Gen Z never really ate Tide Pods, or the way that home renovation shows will turn the bedroom of someone who likes horses fully into an stable—our culture, specifically the part that wants us to buy things, creates overblown caricatures of modern humans that do not exist and then tries to sell to them. And yet, brands still relentlessly cling to this kind of meme marketing.
Last week, I came across an Instagram post from the account for the movie Cat Person, which has recently come to select US cinemas. The way they decided to share this news—perhaps the most significant of the account’s entire existence—was via a meme that makes not one single iota of sense.
“When you realize it’s only Tuesday,” it reads, with a still of the main character, played by Emilia Jones, dispensing herself an ICEE. The post employs perhaps one of the oldest, simplest meme formats, and yet completely blows the landing. I don’t know what it’s trying to say. I assume we’re not happy it’s Tuesday, but the act of getting an ICEE is not nearly ubiquitous enough for it have any kind of meaning in this context. This post has enough of the millennial meme marketing cadence that it can pass as successful on first glance, but the sheer laziness of it angered me in a way it took me a few days to understand.
My feelings, I came to realize, are the same as Early’s. They’re not about that post specifically, but about the sentiment behind it. Is this really what you think of me? Is this how my generation will be remembered?
It’s easy to say it’s our own fault for pioneering these tropes and buzzwords in the first place, but these things didn’t start in some kind of millennial company all-hands. They started in forums and Twitter discourse and through other kinds of authentic collaboration for nothing more than the purposes of humor and self-expression. The issue is when capitalism—specifically, brands and public figures—try to brazenly profit off of these things while severely underestimating the creativity required. What we get are lazy, empty invocations of the lowest common denominators of our culture, pitched to a person who doesn’t really exist.
The point of these campaigns is to mimic posts by regular people, in hopes that they’ll be shared organically. But when was the last time you posted a “relatable meme” to your Instagram Story? Not only is it not how we talk online anymore, but regular users are brand-savvy enough that they would not be caught dead publicly repping Stauffer’s just because the brand posted about the Sunday Scaries. Meme marketing is, or should be, over—if not because it’s lazy, if not because it’s useless, then at least because when the aliens arrive, we don’t want them to think we were building monuments to our love of mess and fear of Mondays.