Branded Memes – Blessing in disguise or an ill fated curse?

In light of Jet Airways getting dragged in the Indigo Airlines controversy for a meme not created by them, Social Samosa takes a look at the impact of Branded Memes

Early this week, the IndiGo incident came in the midst of all social media glare, after a video of their staff manhandling a customer went viral. While, the video was doing the rounds on the internet, there were “ads” (which later turned out to be memes) taking a dig at Indigo by competitor airline, Jet Airways, circulating on social media.

The ad carrying Jet Airways logo said ‘We beat our competition, not you’ and was widely shared. While some appreciated the timing of the brand in churning quick, witty content, others criticized it for being in bad taste. All when it was actually a meme!

Memes are more like User Generated content, with brands have almost no power over it. Whether these memes fall in the “Any Publicity is Good Publicity” category continues to be a pertinent question.

Commenting on whether these creatives help the brand earn publicity or tarnish their image, Harish Bijoor, Brand-expert & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc says, “Memes have a sanction that is social. This is not legal sanction for sure. However, a meme is just that. It is a take-off. And take-offs, at times, take-off with a logo and font and color and the complete brand-identity kit as well. That is exactly what happened to Jet Airways with the IndiGo incident. Memes such as these surreptitiously help the brand concerned be in the public eye. And that is enough. That earns it publicity for sure.”

Bijoor further explained that brands should ideally lobby now to get Memes recognized and certified by the creator as a meme. Somewhere at the bottom of the meme, there needs to be meme ownership. An ownership that distances the brand from the meme in its own way.

Even though, in the Jet Airways creative, it was mentioned that Mad over Marketing has done it, people didn’t pay any heed to the detail. They kept sharing thinking the creative was done by Jet Airways.

Jet Airways soon issues an official statement.

What Jet Airways did was the right thing to do, feels Naresh Gupta, Managing partner and CSO, Bang in the Middle, There is actually very little, which you can do. So, the best way is to just state the facts and move on. You just can’t stop the trolls today. If you haven’t done it, just tell the world and then that should be the end of the matter. People will talk about it for sometime, but it will die down.”

Gupta opined that while the brand has the option of legally suing the meme creator, it needs to decide if they wish to go down the legal route.

Further, on Thursday, someone tried trolling IndiGo on Twitter using their logo, on the backdrop of the recent incident. The airline soon clarified to their customers that it was a hoax message and to not believe it.

Ramanujam Sridhar, Brand Expert and Founder, Brand-comm explains, “In today’s age of social media, opinions and views are very uncontrollable. it is not like, consumers will only have a say in brands, but anybody can have a point of view, and those can be extreme ones as well. There is not much which you can do, hope it doesn’t happen to you and try not to capitalize on someone else’s problem, because tomorrow you may be in a similar soup. ”



This isn’t the first time a meme has landed a brand in trouble.

Last year Myntra faced a lot of flak for a creative that allegedly hurt the Hindu sentiments. People started trolling the creative which was actually done by a digital marketing agency, Scroll Droll.

The graphic featured a scene where Draupadi is disrobed in an assembly full of men by Dushasana. In order to save herself from the indignation, Lord Krishna is shown searching for “extra-long sarees” on Myntra, implying the huge variety of their products.

Even though the agency apologized and tweeted that Myntra is nowhere associated with the art work directly or indirectly, the hashtag #BoycottMyntra kept on trending with people badmouthing the brand. Myntra even tweeted from their social media handle, that the artwork was not created by them and hadn’t endorsed either.


Saurabh Uboweja, International Brand Expert and CEO Brands of Desire, cites, “No brand would like to have their communication narrative left in the hands of social media meme makers whose only job is to capitalize on the equity of high impact events on the back of established brands. This kind of publicity almost never does any benefit to the brands. It rather puts them in an embarrassing situation, left to defend their position.”

Uboweja further added, “If a meme doesn’t have the ability to create a significant impact, it must be left to die its natural death. But brands have to be watchful and conscious of how they are trending. In rare cases that involve high sensitivity, that goes beyond the idea of humour, it makes sense for brands to clear up their official position on the meme, else it can cause significant damage to the equity of the brand for no fault of theirs.”

When Abhinav Kumar appeared in television ads for Trivago, he became an internet sensation within no time. People found his diction “irritating and weird” and there were memes all over, making fun of the Country Development Manager of Trivago.

Using the tagline of the campaign ‘ Kya Aapne kabhi online hotel search kiya hain?’ and his image, memes were shared widely as people had their share of fun.

Similar incident was of Sasha Chettri, the Airtel girl who first appeared in a television commercial to promote Airtel 4G. Memes started doing rounds on social media, where people made fun of not only the brand but the ambassador too.

Arnab Mitra, Managing Director, LIQVD ASIA WORLD WIDE concludes, “They say any PR is good PR. But it’s not so any more in the era of Digital/Social conversations. Any insensitive cases will have their own ramifications on the brand. Millennials are people who like clean fun and they are at the helm of making or breaking brands now.”