Copywriting or Meme? KCB206 - Case Study by kellice chua (n9371613)

Regardless of medium, copywriting is communicating and inciting call-to-action in readers. From print media to web, copywriters are now challenged with the success of viral content marketing by social media and memes. A meme simply put, is an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. Today, writers exercise writing, rewriting, editing and publishing within seconds and as a result, extending new vernaculars and redefining readability, scanability and relatability. “The impact of new media on the writing process is notable for the unprecedented speed and spread of its influence.” (Steve Caputo, 2009) With memes being prevalent artefacts in the participatory culture, readers are able to grasp the overall message with a glance and with the ease of scanability as well as relatability, making it prominent in the mediated public discourse.

Thus, copywriters need to compete with this cultural evolution of memes by “writing visually”. (Emily Shea, 2015) As Henry Jenkins said, “if the right meme was deployed, theory suggests, it would successfully acquire people, reaching more and more possible consumers as goes.” Memes in the digital culture are, “collective conversations intertwine with multimodal expression, becoming vernacular creativity.” (Ryan M,Milner) It is not only conversational but a language created by creative individuals. Burgess, 2007, suggests that vernacular is more connected to the folk than the normal, more to the amateur than professional, more to the bricoleur than the craftsperson and the surge in non-professional creativity, viewed as “new ethic of amateurism” could be one of the defining features of a developed society. (Leadbeater & Miller, 2004, p.22) He has also described vernacular creativity as a “space of hope” for cultural citizenship and is optimistic about its potential to provide citizens a means for connection and expression. He also mentioned that the ultimate public good of vernacular creativity is increased public voice; this is the hope of memetic participation, despite the limitations of participatory media.

As social media becomes an influential factor in editorial decisions of persuasive copies, it has changed the qualification demands of a copywriter. Copywriters now have to instill humour into their ideas as clear, concise and compelling is not enough. “Copy must now be meme worthy” (Demian Farnworth, 2012) Today’s copywriters must be able to communicate with a one liner as well as pages long copies.

An example of users recreating memes with different contexts based off the original meme would be such as PSY’s Gangnam Style. It was an Internet craze for a period of time in 2012 that gathered millions of views and shares in the online community. In the same year, Gangnam Style’s meme was recreated into “Mitt Romney Style” during the US presidential election. This relates to Henry Jenkin’s theory of spreadability as it “relies on open-ended participation as diversely motivated but deeply engaged consumers retrofit content to the contours of different niche communities.” User-generated content, two-way flow information, participatory culture. (Jenkins, 2006) This execution of incorporating the old with the new is explained as “remix media; an active participatory culture especially in this case because it is bringing in political knowledge that was actively going on at the time.” (Lawrence Lessig)

Gangnam Style recreated as Romney Style

Traditionally, copywriting was limited to certain platforms but because of media convergence, particularly technological and textual convergence, where media is remixed and reused, namely transmedia, stories and media content are easily distributed across multiple media platforms. “Whatever medium you end up writing for, you are creating something that takes a brand truth and makes a reader, viewer or passerby care about it, makes it mean something in the impossibly complicated scheme of his or her life. I think, in general, people don’t buy products, they buy stories.” (Ty Montague, 2010)

Furthermore, today’s copywriters face difficulty with telling a story across multiple platforms and involving the consumers in it, as it is an era where consumers take control of their consumption, which in turn is selective participation. “The concept of affordance is generally used to describe what material artefacts such as media technologies allow people to do.” (Norman, 1988) Consumers choose content to spread and share through participatory channels as technology has provided them affordances to re-appropriate and distribute them but these affordances “do not dictate participants behavior, but they do configure the environment in a way that shapes participants’ engagement.” (Boyd, 2011, 39) Copywriters now have to take into consideration the appropriateness of content as “affordances exist not just for individual action, but for social interaction as well” (Gaver, 1196: 114) and according to Dyke, 2004, any creative use of media and technology must consider the aspect of affordance, singularly as well as in combination.

This indicates that social media serves as a critical role in the designing of copies. “Social media tools have provided affordances such as encouraging active participation, providing audience interconnectivity, and fostering ongoing engagement with the firm” (Hazleton, Harrison-Rexrode, Kennan, 2007) and “the collective choices of audiences make content culturally meaningful, socially fungible, and economically valuable.” (Green and Jenkins 2011,112) This relates back to the importance of copywriters having to craft content carefully, as it would either prompt or discourage participatory culture as mentioned above.

As social media trends are continuously modifying, it is important for copywriters to keep up with, have an understanding and adapt to their audience’s needs and wants before being able to create a content that is relatable. “Quality, relevant content can’t be spotted by algorithm. You can’t subscribe to it. You need people – actual human beings – to create or curate it.” (Kristina Halvorson, 2012)

For instance, the MagCon boys, who used Vine to create relevant and relatable content within a brief span of six seconds to entice viewers and rose to immediate fame, despite the cessation of substantial content. Their videos have gained enormous amounts of viewers and recognition within hours simply by creating relatable content that is relevant to the audience. Since its release in 2013, Vine has become the platform of producing talents and drawing large crowds on real-world tours with its top Viners that have acquired millions of fans. It is a platform that encourages participatory culture, where consumers are no longer merely spectators but producers of media.

In conclusion, “it is better off having an audience who is engaged with what you’re saying (even if it’s not a commercial per se), than spouting a non-stop advertisement of yourself with no one to hear it.” (Ezra Chasser, 2014) The creations of memes have successfully achieved this as today’s participatory culture has proven the undying popularity and usage of them with the constant recreation, sharing and spreading of memes. It has managed to “maintain the loyalty of the community” (Lessig, 2008, 183), allowed consumers to find and create content easily and will seemingly continue to do so. Hitherto, in the face of intense competition such as memes, copywriters must now deliver instant gratification in their copies.


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