Memes are Invading Package Design

If you’ve been on social media (particularly Facebook and Twitter) in the past couple of weeks, you’ve almost definitely seen memes about invading Area 51. The conversation ranges from freeing aliens to stealing advanced technology, and while its all been in good fun, the topic has grown to the point that the government actually issued a statement warning people not to come.

The government isn’t the only one weighing in on the subject. Bud Light’s newest can is a cheeky nod to Area 51 and its potential extraterrestrial inhabitants, featuring a crowned Martian and an oozy green design. The company has even promised free beer to “any alien that makes it out,” which just might be the best brand promotion ever – lots of publicity with a very, very, very slim chance of having to actually deliver. And if they do have to fork over the beer, it means that we’ve got bigger problems to worry about anyway.

Innovations in packaging technology have made it so that limited-run packaging doesn’t necessarily have to be planned out months in advance. Before, brands stuck primarily to holidays and maybe milestone anniversaries for special edition packaging. Now, brands have much more flexibility and freedom to respond to unpredictable events as they’re unfolding. But with brands failing at memes so consistently and publicly on social media, how are they to know if a meme is ripe for translation into packaging?

On some level, it’s always going to be a considerable gamble, because it’s impossible to predict the longevity of successful memes. When “Old Town Road” dominated the app Tik Tok as part of the “yeehaw challenge,” few anticipated that it would have also ruled the Billboard charts well into the summer. Meanwhile, other memes have garnered millions of eyeballs, only to be forgotten about a week later.

Measuring momentum is crucial for determining if a meme should feature into a packaging project. Has it reached wider audiences through news stories and commentary by well-known figures? Has it evolved in some way, or shown signs of somehow transgressing the Internet in a tangible, physical way?

It’s also important to understand where the meme is coming from. Area 51 is a great subject for packaging because the meme comes from a place of pure fun and goofiness, and because Area 51 is so well-known outside of the meme that uninitiated imbibers can still appreciate the funky alien design.

It’s inevitable that more brands are going to try to capitalize on the popularity of memes, and we hope to see some be as successful as Bud Light. There is certainly a lot of opportunity, if brands can strike at the right time with the right trend. 

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