I’m Sick of Brands Using Game of Thrones Memes
From the U.S. President to my smart banking app, they’re ubiquitous.
I’m a woman in my mid-twenties, and I love memes.
I’m a meme connoisseur. My primary form of communication with my far-flung friends and family is memes. I follow countless meme pages, I retweet memes on Twitter. I’ve seen generations of generations of memes, propagating, birthing slightly different, self-aware children.
And one trend that I’m actually, heartily sick of, is endless and uninventive Game of Thrones memes put forth by brands.
What is a meme?
It might come as a surprise to many people that the term “meme” was actually coined way back in 1976, before me (1995), Game of Thrones (1996), or even the World Wide Web (1989).
The term was invented by Richard Dawkins, famous biologist and evolutionary theorist, to explain how genes propagated. The idea with genes is that each gene in your body (or a plant’s body, whatever) is working to make sure there will be more of it tomorrow. Most genes do this by helping you survive and make babies, which will contain that gene.
But what if you could apply the exact same principle to bits of information? To ideas? Self-propagating nuggets of data? How do you take that structural dissemination of information and find it in cultures?
Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to explain how cultural information spreads using very similar characteristics to genes — and Mike Godwin, in 1993, first thought of it as being relevant to the internet.
Today, anyone can share or even create their own memes. A successful meme is one which goes viral, replicating itself in dozens of new forms until recognizable by any denizen of the internet.
Game of Thrones is universal in its controversy.
Now back to the meat of the matter: everyone knows of Game of Thrones. Some people are fanatics, some are light fans, and some have never seen an episode and plan to keep it that way. There are Chrome extensions to remove any mention of Game of Thrones online, for fear of spoilers. A very clever group of people used character traits in AI to predict who would survive at the end of Game of Thrones, for heaven’s sake.
What I’m saying is it’s trendy. Trendy to love it, to hate it, to have an opinion on it no matter how banal. It’s trendy to talk about it, post about it, and, fatally, to meme about it.
Everyone from Buzzfeed to Cosmopolitan to the President of the United States has hopped on the bandwagon and is posting both about Game of Thrones, and also using Game of Thrones meme format.
Memes are better than this.
What I love about memes is that they’re really, really clever. You can subvert expectations in memes. You can break the fourth wall. Memes can nest within memes, so that only someone who has seen the past three generations of meme culture go by will understand certain memes.
What I’m saying is memes have potential to be harnessed as tools of hilarious communication, almost forming their own sub-language. They deserve better than to be saddled to the back of a media giant, fully mainstream, pop sensation such as Game of Thrones.
What makes it worse is that it’s not people making these really bad memes: it’s brands. And that is a crucial distinction.
I swear, if I see one more “XYZ is coming,” meme, which references the House Stark slogan “Winter is Coming,” as well as being a sort of Game of Thrones catchphrase, I will actually write to complain.
Some GoT memes can be exceptionally good — referencing deep layers of in-world knowledge, funny riffs on phrases or actions in the latest episode. But when brands get involved just to show they’re hip and trendy, I feel they’re doing both Game of Thrones as well as the concept of a meme a disservice.
Brands want to be seen as people, too.
2019 must be the year of the Corporate Personality, because everywhere you look on social media you will uncover a brand trying their best to fool you into thinking they’re real people, and moreover, your best friends, here to helpfully take your money.
In this atmosphere, it’s become a sort of shorthand to use memes to jump on the cultural bandwagon. If you use a meme, referencing some aspect of pop culture, it’s a fast, easy, and above all cheap way to make your consumers think — hey, this brand watched Mean Girls too. So they’re real people, like me. Trustworthy.
And Game of Thrones is the ultimate way right now to prove you’re one of us, a person who’s just as disgusted with the incest and fascinated by the in-fighting and deeply in preparatory mourning the characters who will eventually and inevitably die this season.
Game of Thrones reaches so deeply into our collective cultural consciousness that simply by referencing the most superficial quote, brands, or even politicians, or any other figure who has trouble relating to “the people” but wants us to trust them, can sneak in and pretend they’re one of us.
It’s tired, it’s boring, and I’m not fooled.
Earlier in the weekend, my smart banking app Cleo told me that “Easter was Coming,” pairing it with an irrelevant Game of Thrones gif that had nothing to do with the quote.
This brand is meant to be fairly savvy in terms of social media and millennials, so I was a little disappointed. This is what I could expect in future communications with this app? Hastily jammed-in memes, poorly conceived and even more poorly timed, simply because Game of Thrones is topical right now?
It had the opposite effect as intended, as you could guess. The little amount of brand loyalty I had to Cleo left me as I realized they could genuinely come up with no better way to connect with me that a really, really unfunny Game of Thrones meme.
Memes are, in my humble opinion, one of the funniest, snarkiest and sassiest ways to communicate. There are more layers than an onion. Memes are subversive, often because they take things said or done by people in positions of power and poke fun at them in infinitely universal and relatable ways. Memes are a language no one is born learning, but one than everyone can pick up.
That’s why, to me, it’s offensive that anyone in need of quickly communicating trustworthiness and “I’m-one-of-you”-ness relies on the common, humble meme. And what’s more, that they use the same, old, worn-out ones, stuffing their Brand into the trojan horse of Game of Thrones in order to reach you.
Soon, I won’t be the only one who finds this kind of pandering silly at best and actively insulting at worst. Winter is coming to the the sweet summer children: brands that rely on Game of Thrones memes. And when you play a meme of thrones, you win or you die.