Memes, Millennials and a New Kind of Political Advertising

With the rise of social media, memes have become a new way for both activists and candidates to spread their messages.  However, this method clearly targets millennials who grew up with the technology that memes were born from.  Millennials have less trouble understanding and communicating with memes, which leads to the question of how people who are less connected to Facebook, Twitter and the Internet at large feel about the tactic.  The following is a Q & A with Tim O’Neill, a 61-year-old who lives in Johnson City, Tennessee.  O’Neill watches the evening and morning news and reads the newspaper, but he does not use social media at all.

How have you seen political advertising change in your lifetime?

Kennedy hired an advertising agency, and that was the first person that ever had their image polished or put out there.  That was the start of it, and, now, it’s all about the image.

What is the single most successful political advertisement you remember seeing in a presidential race?

Al Gore leaked that Bush junior had had a DUI, and they said that had a big effect on the election even though Bush won—even though Gore got the most votes.  One of the most effective ads of this season’s campaign was Bernie—he used a Simon & Garfunkel song—but it was more a unity ad than a negative, slam the opponent ad.

Which candidate do you think is “winning” when it comes to advertising right now?

Hillary has outspent Trump three to one.  Trump relies on getting his name in the press—his motto is any press is good press—but I haven’t seen any ads that have really rocked my world from either one of them.  The ads that he’s running are pretty disgusting—they’re so anti Hillary and so bitter.

What do you think about memes?

I think it’s a very powerful way to advertise.  It’s a very powerful way, but it can be a bit sneaky—you use a picture that’s not very flattering for a negative statement, try to use a flattering picture if you’re trying to push.  It’s a powerful way to spread propaganda.

How do you feel about memes compared to other types of political advertising?

It’s like a high tech bumper sticker.  I think, in some ways, it could be more powerful than somebody standing there talking.  I think you can deliver a more powerful shock factor this way than you can by somebody just talking.  Somehow the image and the print is more stark or more to the point—you don’t have to digest anything as long.

So you think it is worth a candidate’s time to advertise this way?

I think it’s probably well worth their time, and I think people tend to believe something written over something stated verbally.