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Brand Meme Challenge. Level: Bernie

  • Alyx 

Inauguration Day 2021 passed without a hitch yesterday in the United States, with some notable firsts, like the swearing-in of Kamala Harris as America’s first Black, Asian-American and female vice-president. Many brands enthusiastically and genuinely took part the celebration of President Biden and Vice President Harris on social media.

Social media’s nature, outside of Brand Twitter, is to meme – and the inauguration gave us several meme-able moments, as well, the most popular of which involves Bernie Sanders, the iconic Senator from Vermont. Bernie’s “inauguration look” – a decidedly practical coat and supremely cozy-looking mittens in contrast to the formal and high-fashion looks chosen by most attendees – has originated a stream of memes placing Bernie in likely, and unlikely, places.

Brands often try to get in on popular memes, but the challenge level here – finding a way to link brand messaging with someone whose personal brand revolves around challenging corporate power – without inducing cringe seemed nearly insurmountable. We found, however, one shining example. Who better to take on a double-black-diamond level meme challenge than Burton?

There are several lessons to be learned here related to what it takes for a brand to make a meme work:

  • Have a genuine connection that makes your use of the meme relevant. If you don’t meme often, make sure your memes are relatable (and don’t model your posts after those from brands that meme all the time, like Slim Jim, for example, that can take more risks). Burton is based in Sen. Sanders’ state of Vermont – and that’s really a Burton jacket that Bernie’s wearing along with his now-iconic recycled wool mittens.
  • Know your audience. Will the meme’s subject be popular with your audience? Burton had linked with the Sanders Institute in the past to create merchandise based on a Bernie-emblazoned jacket created by one of their customers. Their audience is also likely younger and environmentally conscious – so more likely to appreciate a Bernie meme.
  • Use a common template and be sure you understand it. Burton’s use of “Steal This Look” is completely appropriate. (We, at one point, had to advice a client that their use of the “two buttons” and “offramp” memes was completely inaccurate- yes, it was awkward.)

In summary, Burton nailed it, but brands should be careful out there. Or as Bernie would say (while wearing the same jacket in both memes, because, well, Bernie is sensible like that):