The Super Awesome Memes of the 2012 Presidential Campaign

Planit Agency
October 19, 2012

So I am going to go out on a limb and assume that most people in the US really just want this election to be over with. I am a self-confessed political junkie and even I am exhausted by it. The constant tit for tat and "doubling down on things" and fact checking. Not to mention all of the random percentages I am  supposed to keep track of: 99%, 47%, 1%, .01%, 100%, etc. So how do I keep sane during this last month of campaigning insanity? I get a healthy dose of comic relief in the form of all the memes and GIFs that saturate the social networks and blogosphere following any significant campaign moment.

All jokes aside I really do believe internet memes and their presentation can serve as great inspiration for people in the marketing and advertising industry. Memes are ideas distilled down to only their essentials—a compelling image and punchline that are instantly relatable to a large group of people. Memes can create cultural phenomena literally in a few hours. And they can also work very hard to perpetuate existing cultural narratives. There are many memes that would qualify as "genius" in terms of their ability to shape cultural perceptions in just one small image and a few words.

In this blog post I would like to share some of my favorite memes from this election cycle.

A quick overview for people who actually have lives and aren't stuck on the internet all day:

Meme:  According to Wikipedia, the word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme (from Ancient Greek mÄ«mÄ“ma, "something imitated") and it was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the book included melodies, catchphrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches.

Basically a meme is a little chunk of pop-culture DNA. For instance: The idea that if cats could type or speak they would have horrible grammar. On the internet these memes take the form of comics or images overlaid with short, concise text that is usually witty and humorous in nature.

GIFs: GIF is just the name of a file type (image.gif for example) used to present short, low-bandwidth animations. While most memes are static images, the GIF format allows for added hilarity and impact in the form of sequential frames.


Bring on the memes:

1. "Joe Biden As Your Crazy Uncle From The '80s"

This is is definitely one of my favorites. It is just perfect in the sense that almost everyone knows "that guy" or is related to someone like him. It pokes fun at the wild stuff Joe Biden is known for saying and just expands from there to create this hilarious caricature of Joe Biden. It also emphasizes the narrative that Biden is kind of this good-hearted and fun-loving guy, but often he's an unpredictable, immature thorn in the side of Obama. And because he's "family" Obama is unfortunately stuck with him. Just like we are all stuck with our crazy relatives.


2. "The Hair Swap"

While not really a meme in the most traditional sense, this made my list because it was all over the internet. There isn't an actual situation in real life where people switch hairdos, but the imagery is just so disturbingly hilarious; it's just too good to not want to share with your friends. Plus it's kind of unbiased: All the candidates look bizarre with someone else's hair.


3. "Obama Getting His Ass Kicked in the First Debate"

Even the president admits he didn't show up for that first debate. But regardless of who wins or loses a particular debate, we can always count on their base to try to spin for their candidate. This meme plays on the "sore loser" narrative that pops up after each debate. In this case it's liberals blaming Jim Lehrer's moderator perfomance as one of the reasons their guy "lost." And the "Condescending Willy Wonka" character is the perfect messenger.


4. "Menacing Josh Romney"

Here is one of my favorite GIFs. A perfect example for the format. Josh Romney was apparently caught on camera with a scowl on his face at the second presidential debate. So of course the internet picked up on that and created the idea that Josh Romney is this malevolent force to be reckoned with. The way the GIF zooms into a close-up of his face really enhances the scariness.


5. "Binders Full of Women"

This one might go down in history as one of the fastest memes to ever spread through the internet. Literally minutes after Mitt Romney awkwardly phrased his answer to a debate question about equal pay for women: An internet sensation was born. Hundreds of memes flooded the social networks. There was an entire "Binders Full of Women" facebook page up and running—with more than 100k fans—within an hour of the debate. That is the kind of reaction online advertisers and social media experts dream about (as long as their clients are not on the receiving end of the joke). It is also the kind of reaction that keeps the candidates and campaign staff up at night—filled with anxiety that the slightest gaffe could have a huge impact on the election narrative. As is the case with all memes, the "Binders Full of Women" meme mutated, evolved, and branched off—incorporating bits and pieces of other memes and cultural references. Hence the "Lord of the Rings" and Bill Clinton variations on display here.

This meme also has significance for advertisers and marketers because it illustrates the idea of brands and famous personalities sometimes unwittingly being pulled into a meme. Often the consequences are undesirable from a PR perspective, but occasionally they are great for business. Case in point: Both Trapper Keeper and Etch A Sketch have received a boost in brand awareness as a result of these campaigns memes. So maybe in that sense these candidates are really following up on their promises to stimulate the economy. 

So in closing I should add the disclaimer that I am an Obama supporter, but I did try to show a range of memes poking fun at both parties. I am sure there are a thousand awesome memes I haven't seen yet—coming from both sides of the political spectrum. If you have some favorites that I missed, please post the links below!