The Themes of Memes: Dissertation – 66%

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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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Strategic Communications and Advertising Planning – Assignment 2 – 88%

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Untitled-1The second assignment of this unit was one of the most unique and intriguing tasks from third year. The assignment had two parts, first of which involved,

  a critical review of past campaigns that had received complaints on the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) website relating to harmful   and offensive advertising, while assessing whether the voluntary codes that operate within the UK are working.

I was given the freedom to chose either a particular company, industry or time period for investigation. Initially, selecting campaigns proved difficult, as the vast majority of complaints derived from misleading ads, not harmful and offensive ones. After significant examination of the ASA website, bearing in mind part two of this task, which warranted for a variety of communication tools to be featured in a campaign. I decided to focus on the first ever e-cigarette ads.

E-cigarettes were first promoted in 2013 by brands VIP and E-Lites (Buchanan, 2014; Sweney, 2013). The methods used to achieve brand awareness received a multitude of complaints regarding harmful and offensive advertising, raising attention from the ASA. As a result, the first two e-cigarette ads were banned in some form. I analysed the creative appeals of the ads and suggested parallels between traditional tactics used to promote cigarettes.

The ASA’s judgement of the two ads appeared to be a catalyst in bringing to light the social damage unregulated e-cigarette advertising could cause. Whether the brands intentionally took advantage of an unregulated environment in order to most effectively achieve their goal of brand awareness, remains debatable. Regardless, following extensive public consultation, the ASA proactively introduced new sections to the CAP and BCAP codes, directly regulating e-cigarettes, in November 2014 (Asa.org.uk, 2014b).

The ASA’s initial negligence placed consumers in a vulnerable positon, giving power to the ad industry and enabling marketers to create content which potentially caused detriment to society. However, through recent complaint analysis, the ASA’s relatively fast reaction to implement new rules, had been judged to have effectively protected consumers and society. Perhaps exemplifying this shift, E-Lites had recently rebranded to be called Logic (Logicvapes.com, 2017). In analysing a key time period for the ad industry, my report demonstrated the need for fast and dynamic action from the ASA, yet, positively supported the organisation in being an effective method for regulating the UK ad industry.

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The second part of this task asked me to,

 critically review how you would monitor and evaluate whether this was a successful      campaign or not.

I chose to focus on E-Lites’ campaign, which consisted of: a radio ad, TV ad, Internet banner ad, poster at a bus-stop and display ad on the side of a bus. This broad spectrum enabled me to explore a wide variety of monitoring and evaluation methods.

A key theme of this essay derived from the opportunities digital technology can provide. However, I began by highlighting some more traditional techniques such as, pre-testing and publicity tracking. These can be effective tools, yet do have limitations that digital technology can overcome quite well. Historically, ‘marketing’ has been unable to confidently claim with a credible degree of accuracy that a particular campaign resulted in ‘x’ number of sales. This is due to a plethora of external factors influencing consumer behaviour. The Internet, however, has provided unparalleled tracking potential. E-Lites’ banner ad offers the ability to accurately determine how effective the ad was in making a sale, the click-through and bought rate (Chaffey and Smith, 2013). This is but one example, numerous others featured in the essay.

Despite acknowledgement of the monitoring and evaluation potential of the Internet, I had to relate the various challenges of this new technology. Computer software partly helps the process of converting data into useful information, but turning the information into tangible business decisions is a complex practice needing highly skilled strategic analysts. Stemming from this, misinterpretation of data is common. A company may choose to monitor so called vanity metrics (Chaffey and Smith, 2013), for example, page views and number of followers, in relation to its objective of increasing brand awareness. However, this key performance indicator (KPI) presents flawed relevance to the number of people actually trying a product. This misinterpretation can distort the overall evaluation of a campaign and lead to misinformed future objectives.

Challenges will need to be overcome involving: speed, cost, dynamism and transparency. Ironically, these challenges with the technology are identical to the opportunities it will offer.

I greatly enjoyed writing these two essays and was extremely grateful to be awarded 88%. This unit was a favourite from third year, largely due to committed, passionate and engaging tutelage from award-winning blogger Jeff McCarthy. I was overjoyed to achieve an average of 86%, a grade I didn’t expected to attain in a unit from third year.


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CORPORATE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT: EXAM – 76%

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By achieving 76%, this exam resulted in an unexpected personal milestone of progression. Throughout the majority of tasks in third year, I was instructed to analyse a firm’s current situation and with this information, suggest a strategy for the future of the company. One can find the challenges initially faced in my other blog posts. However, I believe my success in this exam exhibits the progression I have made in efficiently applying this practice.

The exam was slightly unique, in that it was open-book and that I was asked to prepare a two-page analysis of the case-study organisation, Sports Direct, to be included in the exam. The open-book nature and the prior knowledge of the case study meant I was able to gather useful information, allowing me to construct highly detailed and specific answers.

The exam had three questions. The first was previously informed to be either CSR or Ethics. The other two were a raffle between ten topics. Commonly with exams, advice from tutors involved; out of the ten topic areas, choose four or five to cover in depth, increasing the likelihood of two of them coming up.

Sports Direct was specifically chosen because of the damage its reputation had received from various stakeholders. Through rigorous research of Sports Direct, looking at the historical timeline of negative media coverage and the manner in which Sports Direct handled the situation. I was able to see the links between the company’s failure and the theory covered in the unit.

The extent to which I achieved this was extremely surprising. When one has prepared specific questions for an exam, the anticipation of whether they are going to come up is immense. This is intensified even more where, instead of covering four-to-five topics, I had gambled with only preparing three. Time was a major influencing factor of this but I was also quietly confident that these were by far the most important issues. Despite my confidence, I was absolutely stunned when I opened the paper and saw, the three questions I had prepared for the second part all featured in the exam in the exact way I had written them. I was able to answer three out of the four question (although only two were needed) and essentially write down my answers word-for-word.

At the time I brazenly thought, I couldn’t have gotten luckier if I had written the exam myself. However, on further reflection, I found a great deal of pride in managing to analyse a company’s situation and prioritise the most important actions, to the extent that I had reached the same conclusions as my tutors through their choice of questioning. I believe this grade showcases the ultimate progression I have made through repeatedly engaging with this analytical practice and gives me great confidence for my future work and career.


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Strategic Marketing Management: Report – 74%

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sostac_plan_long_2This unit introduced me to the top-level of marketing and was one of the most enjoyable and challenging parts of third year. It had a significant impression on my affinity towards advertising and widened my future employment perspectives.

In the past I had been fairly sceptical of academic models in relation to their relevance in practice. Whereas, through applying PR Smith’s SOSTAC® framework and various other analysis tools in this unit, I found my opinions of theory to favourably change.

In a group of three, my task was to fully apply SOSTAC® to Nestle, specifically its baby food division. We first conducted a situation analysis and then using this information, justly proposed objectives, creative targeted actions and controlling measures.

The initial situation analysis process required logical, problem-solving thinking. We needed to weigh up: which market, product and consumer would provide the most value in targeting. While taking into account extenuating circumstances involving boycott actions against Nestle.

Through extremely comprehensive analysis, my group was able to use data to justify almost all of our decisions. The only bias decision was the choice of the UK market, which admittedly, was chosen due to the favourable amount of data available regarding this market.

The thorough analysis set us up very well for the more creative stage of SOSTAC®, the actions. We were able to brainstorm innovative marketing tactics that took full advantage of the market and consumer trends in the UK, while conforming to the regulations associated with baby food advertising and the impact of the boycott.

The main challenge my group encountered when formulating this report, was the sheer vastness of data we had gathered. Being introduced to a wide array of models, coupled with my tutor granting great freedom through the choice of any market or product we could justify, meant the process of narrowing our work down to fit the 10-page limit was extremely challenging. This is highlighted by the report’s word count, just under 12,000 words. Admittedly, this was an excessive amount to squeeze onto 10 pages and possibly hindered our mark.

However, the challenges of this task provided me with a valuable learning experience, (quote first post of 3rd). Good research is largely useless if the uncovered bits of gold are not communicated to managers effectively. Communication is at the heart of advertising. If the marketers themselves are unable to communicate internally, what hope do they have of engaging externally.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed conducting such a comprehensive assignment. Using logical thinking in determining which pathway to create ideas around was extremely satisfying. In second year, I had been fairly one-track-minded in believing my goal was to be a ‘creative’ in an agency, however, this unit opened my eyes to the affinity I have towards analytical research and widened my scope in considering these roles as well.

My group and I received 74% for this assignment.


Email: hudacummings@gmail.com

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SOSTAC® is a registered trade mark of PR Smith. For more information on SOSTAC® Planning & becoming a SOSTAC® Certified Planner visit www.SOSTAC.org .

Corporate Reputation Management: Report – 85%

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This assignment asked myself and a partner to create a report with the plans for a corporate communication campaign designed to enhance corporate reputation. Like previous assignments, we were given the freedom to choose our own firm to examine and were tasked with conducting a situation analysis. However, the analysis was much shorter, just four pages long, meaning it had to be prioritised much more rigidly than the ten-page VW analysis. We chose to study Kellogg’s, which presented unique challenges that had to be overcome.

My partner and I used the analysis to decide on one issue to focus our communication campaign on. We proposed six SMART objectives: three business-orientated and three communications and created a campaign message. Using Mitchel et al. (1997) framework, we conducted in-depth stakeholder analysis, which enabled our target publics to be accurately and justly determined. We focused on consumers, media and shareholders.

For consumers we proposed three initiatives:

  • An interactive sporting event at England’s first game of the 6 Nations, themed around the 1990s hit UK TV show Gladiators.
  • A social media competition in partnership with FitBit: #BeatTheBadges.
  • Local community development in collaboration with the This Girl Can sports-orientated initiative.

Our activities strategically targeted the consumer behaviour trends identified from the situation analysis, while staying inline with Kellogg’s corporate image, enabling the enhancement of its reputation.

We used a variety of media tools to communicate with our target publics:

  • A national media press conference
  • A host of press releases, including: national, local, specialist and social media.
  • A press day at the Manchester Factory
  • Bloggers and other online influencers.

The media channel complimented the activity it attached to, such as social media press releases for the Fitbit competition, in order to create a streamlined integrated campaign.

This assignment presented unique challenges and in overcoming, I believe to have learnt more about the process of analysing a company’s situation and weighing up the most important aspects to take action upon. When we discovered Kellogg’s impressive reputation, my partner and I rationalised, the ideal action did not lie with outlandish PR stunts but rather with engaging activities that compliment the brand and help bolster its reputation.

We approached with a considerable amount of respect towards Kellogg’s, being mindful of conserving its reputation over other more extreme tactics. This assignment impressed upon me, that just because the task gives unbridled freedom to choose any communication tactics, there are some instances where erring on the side of caution is the most favourable strategy for sustaining reputation and long-term success.

My partner and I received 85% for this task, a grade I’m very proud of, given the obstacles we overcame.


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Strategic Communications & Advertising Planning: Part 2 – Poster Pitch – 78%

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Following on from the situation analysis undertaken in Part 1, my team and I were then tasked to brainstorm a campaign in order to attain one of the suggested marketing communication objectives. We showcased our ideas in a 10-minute pitch, facilitated by an A0 poster, designed collaboratively using Adobe Photoshop.

We focussed on the Golf GTE, hybrid/electric car and utilised the car-purchasing-journey, adapted from Mintel, as a framework for our pull/profile strategy. SEO and a TV ad were strategically applied for the ‘initial search’ stage. We dreamt up a promotional event, VW Volt, intended to engage with the public and inform of VW’s commitment to sustainability. To aid potential customers’ ‘choice evaluation’ a partnership with Zipcar was tactically proposed, allowing the public to test-drive VW cars, encourage purchasing and ultimately, achieve return-on-investment. We divulged a budget and schedule for the campaign by way of a Gantt chart.

It was empowering to have the freedom to innovate my own extensive campaign on this assignment. Working as group of five, bouncing ideas off each other, while using the car-purchasing-journey as a guideline, made producing this comprehensive campaign seamless, fun, and creatively satisfying. The tricky part was keeping our presentation down to just 10 minutes long. However, practice helped achieved this and my previous experience with pitching helped the delivery to be confident and precise.

My team and I received 78% for the second part of this assignment, giving myself an overall average unit grade of 84%.


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Strategic Communications & Advertising Planning: Part 1 – Report – 90%

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This post is the first piece of work from the third year of my degree. This year, the tasks primarily focussed on applying theory in relation to a firm and its particular scenario. This assignment had two parts, an individual report and a group presentation.

My team and I decided upon Volkswagen (VW), as the task warranted a company that was in need of refocusing or refreshment. The report involved a situation analysis of VW, examining: the customer context, the business context, the internal context and the external context. It heavily concentrated on VW’s emissions scandal of 2015.

Using stakeholder analysis, PESTLE, SWOT and in-depth market and consumer analysis facilitated by Mintel, I was able to prioritise four key issues VW faced and identify SMART marketing communications objectives justly addressing the problems.

A difficulty I initially found with this task involved diluting down the vast amount of data I gathered. The report had a 10-page limit, meaning by no means could all the data be included. With performing numerous situation analyses in my other units, I became more experienced at this practice of narrowing down, while attaining the ‘bigger picture’. Being able to find data, analyse it in its entirety and then pick out the valuable bits of information in order to create an informed prioritised plan of action, is a skill I believe to have progressively developed during third year.

I received 90% for this assignment, a grade I’m extremely proud to receive and did not expect to ever achieve at university. Please use the email below to view a sample of the report.


Email: hudacummings@gmail.com

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