If you haven’t run across the CVS receipt meme, take a moment to look at a few images. CVS, in an attempt to provide its ExtraCare customers with additional savings, provides coupons and special offers on receipts for purchases. Sounds great, right? The problem is that some of the CVS receipts for a single item ended up being over 40 inches long. Customers realized the amusing potential and began photographing and circulating pictures of these receipts often in hilarious ways—as kindling for firewood, stretched the full length of a couch … you get the idea. A meme was born—yet another image in all of its delightful variations.
Now, I’m pretty sure that the marketing folks at CVS didn’t sit down and agree to provide customers with insanely long receipts as a ploy to get pictures on Instagram, but that is in fact what happened. CVS has gotten a phenomenal amount of publicity—free publicity. CVS's answer to all this buzz? It's going to shorten the receipts, and I can’t help but think that it's missing out on a phenomenal opportunity. If you have people photographing and distributing your logo, why not capitalize on it? We can learn some important marketing lessons from this meme in terms of promoting our own brands.
Better isn’t better; different is better. Because novelty is what drives much of the material circulated on social media, the biggest impressions are from anything new. This point is the most important and underlies the principles that follow.
1. Be the EST. Be the fastest, biggest, strongest, funniest, easiest ... the point is to find a way to be the superlative, the most of something. CVS has the longest receipt; maybe you can print a receipt on the strangest material. If you’re a winemaker, print your card on a thin slice of cork. If you’re in the tree removal business, print your contact info on leaf-shaped paper. Think of a way to differentiate yourself.
2. Find something ubiquitous. If you want your customers to promote your business on social media, you need to give them something that’s easy to work with. Think about it—we all recognize and have receipts. That meme makes sense to us. If people were taking pictures of objects we didn’t recognize as readily—guitar strings, shoelaces or HDMI cables—we wouldn’t find the pictures as appealing or funny.
3. Be pictorial or easy to replicate. Make it easy for users of social media to share your tagline or pics of your items in a way that’s appealing and clearly identifies your brand. Include temporary tattoos with your products and encourage photo sharing, or put a Twitter hashtag on your packaging to promote tweets that mention your company.
4. Recognize the emotional power of social media. People who participate in perpetuating memes get a little charge—a thrill—from being involved. We feel a sense of belonging, and early promoters feel as if they’re on the cutting edge. I know that I feel like the coolest guy on the planet if I happen to see a meme before my children do. Don’t underestimate the powerful emotional connection people will have for your product if they use it to connect to their friends.
5. Memes have to be open to variations. If all the CVS pics were simply of folks holding long receipts, then we’d quickly lose interest. What perpetuates the meme are the variations. Wrapping your head like a mummy or covering your car’s windshield with the receipts are fun variations.
6. Never underestimate the power of luck and opportunity. CVS didn’t plan on its marathon receipts turning into a meme, and not to capitalize on that publicity is a big missed opportunity. Run ads. Make fun of yourself. Use the monster opportunity you’ve been given when you discover that something you produce has found popular appeal.
This is the stuff of fantasy. Imagine being in CVS’s position. Practically overnight, you have thousands of people taking and sharing pictures of your logo. That’s potentially millions of impressions. You’re doing yourself a favor if you increase the possibility of your company becoming part of a meme, and you owe it to yourself to monitor what’s going on for mentions of your company name or associated images. Don’t let a chance like that pass you by.
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