Google’s Engagement Project analyzes the meaning of Internet “memes”

Ridiculously silly cat GIFs or viral Youtube videos that become so-called online «memes» over time, are not just time-wasters but can be used wisely by brands to engage with the Gen C, latest findings of the Google’s Engagement Project reveal

Started in May 2013 as part of the analytical Think Insights platform, The Engagement Project aims to study, understand and prove value of engagement in brand building. The central object of the research is a specific category of users that are referred to as those who «thrive on creation, curation, connection and community,» hence called Gen C. Defining this group, the age criteria isn’t the crucial one—so Gen C are people born in the different years, however, aссording to ComScore Videometrix’s survey as of April 2013, 65% of them are under 35.

So these users enjoy creating, sharing and discussing (viral) content online—which is called by Google’s  Head of Strategic Planning, Abigail Posner, a «visual play.» To understand the meaning of this process and the point of creating memes, Google has teamed up with anthropologists, digital vanguards and content creators, as well as spoken to a number of Gen C’ers. The key findings of what they have discovered are summarized below.

A fresher view on ordinary, familiar things

As Google puts it, visual content, as well as art, poetry and philosophy, —are the means of rediscovering the miraculous in mundane, new in familiar, fascinating in routine. After all, it fulfills a cognitive human need of experiencing the world at a new perspective.

Pure joy of creativity 

Visual web frees people’s cliched minds and, like in childhood, allows us to connect seemingly unrelated things. Neuroscientist have a special term to define this process—a synapse, which is considered to be the basis of creativity. So the process of creating memes can be regarded a synaptic play.

Happiness shared=happiness amplified

As babies, we learn a «social smile» from our moms—so we do the same with memes when become adults. Sharing a «social smile» with the friends online makes us feel better, too. All the pins, posts, likes and retweets are of the same nature—these little «moments of online communication» remind us that we are truly connected in the real world.

Advice to advertisers 

Knowing the hidden psychological meaning behind the «visual attention distractors,» brands should understand what attracts people in this type of content to duplicate this effect in their branded online communications: memes discover something new in mundane, evoke creativity through synaptic play, and allow to exchange positive energy.

To learn more about the research, please download the full report in PDF here.