The Themes of Memes: Dissertation – 66%



Social networks have contributed to the birth of a digital culture, an age where information sharing is as simple as pressing a button. This has presented significant implications for the word-of-mouth (WOM) advertising technique. Currently, consumers are not just end users of online advertising, they can play a key role in the distribution of messages. Branded communication on the Internet has the potential to offer unparalleled reach in terms of scale and cost efficiency. Previous academic research has examined the content of various forms of spreadable media, including online ads and Internet memes. This study adopted a novel approach, applying the theory of semiotics for analysis of the content of Internet memes. The research explored 16-24 year old’s assessment of six viral meme’s in relation to seven semiotic themes with the goal of determining the most strongly associated attributes. The themes of Humour, ‘Relatability’ and Simplicity exhibited the most widespread association. Whereas, Nostalgia, Sarcasm, Representing Pop Culture and Use of Colloquialism/Slang displayed fragmented and weak correlation. Surmised from these findings, Humour, ‘Relatability’ and Simplicity may represent essential components of a viral meme. This study provides potentially useful insights concerning the cultural phenomenon of the Internet meme and supplies practical knowledge towards better understanding how to increase WOM engagement of branded content promoted on social media.

The journey undertaken in creating this research project has provided many opportunities of learning and growth. It started towards the end of my second year at university. I was given the option to choose between a research project and a substitute unit. The decision was a simple one, I had looked forward to the freedom of exploring a subject, of my choosing, in greater depth than in any past assignment. I had initially desired to attend a placement year but for unavoidable circumstances I did not obtain this experience. I purposely chose to design my research project in relation to the area of advertising I endeavour to pursue employment (at the time). Namely, to be a ‘creative’ in a marketing agency. My tutor, Ian Mitchell shared the caveat that nowadays, agencies are looking for creatives who ‘get’ digital. This guided my choice to look at the social phenomenon of online memes. The semiotic perspective seemed to materialise naturally, originating from my early attraction towards the theory from first year.

I recognised the implications of examining a topic area in greater depth than in any past assignment. From this, I consulted the advice of tutors Cathy Bakewell, Javier Lloveras and Griff Round, towards the close of my second year. Each of them provided me with guidance and confidence towards the choice of this subject area and perspective. They impressed upon me the challenges I would face, with regard to exploring a relatively new field of research and by applying a fairly complex system of analysis, in semiotic theory. However, they each gave me reassurance that as long as I conducted a thoroughly comprehensive review of the available literature and managed my time well, the project was achievable.

The literature review was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project. The sheer mass of information was tricky to get my head around. Presenting the literature in a fashion that did not resemble a shopping basket was something I had to overcome. I employed valuable advice given by my supervisor Bex Lewis, along with various YouTube videos to circumvent this obstacle. I was very pleased with how my lit’ review turned out.

I used a pragmatic mixed-method approach to gather data. Firstly, I conducted a focus group, which provided me with seven tangible semiotic themes. Then, I explored these themes further by way of an online survey, which was distributed to a larger audience. For data analysis, I utilised a variety of functions from Microsoft Excel. A series of graphical representations allowed me to spot trends and associations within my data. This provided me with my findings and conclusions.

This piece of work is very different to all others. Its more personal. From the array of advice I sought early on, one may appreciate how much this project meant to me. I was determined to do as well as possible. A great deal of thought, reading and exploration went into planning this project. I must have printed out and read close to a hundred papers. This work reflects my personality. I strongly appreciate all my tutors’ help in motivating me to take on something challenging, do something different and creative. And, although I did not achieve a first for this work, the feeling of creating a 16K word, 76-page report, in a fashion that has never been done before, is all the more satisfying and rewarding.

This dissertation represents me and I am very proud of it.


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