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Ukraine memes proliferate despite grim realities of war

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Russian tanks have been widely ridiculed in internet memes


Russian tanks have been widely ridiculed in internet memes – Copyright AFP/File Anatolii Stepanov

Joseph BOYLE

A giant Adolf Hitler bends down and pats a docile Vladimir Putin on the cheek, master to pupil, in a picture posted on Ukraine’s official Twitter account on February 24 — the day the invasion began.

The message that follows reads: “This is not a ‘meme’, but our and your reality right now.”

Almost two million people have liked the tweet and many thousands have shared it, making it one of the defining viral takes of the war so far.

Yet the country’s official messaging is only a tiny part of the story of memes in the Ukraine war.

For two weeks after the invasion, Ukraine’s official account pivoted away from humour, allowing the internet to fill the void.

Annons

Dozens of dedicated accounts sprang up and social media platforms have been flooded with content — from cats in cardboard tanks on TikTok to endless jokes about World War III and reworked scenes from Star Wars movies.

But beyond a few seconds of mirth, do memes have a wider role?

– ‘Nihilistic japing’ –

“I don’t think memes are going to end the war,” says Charlie Gere, a sociology professor from Lancaster University in the UK.

He describes memes in general as “nihilistic japing” likely to have minimal impact outside their own cultural sphere.

The war has given rise to one meme that has crossed from internet curiosity to real-world product.

The Saint Javelin meme — depicting a Madonna figure in the style of a religious icon clutching a rocket launcher — now features on T-shirts and various other merchandise sold by Canada-based marketer Christian Borys.

He says all his profit goes to the Ukrainian war effort and told the BBC he had raised more than $1 million (910,000 euros).

Annons

Memes are more commonly regarded as an effective way of spreading a message and engaging audiences.

Christian Dumais, a writer and comedian whose Twitter alter ego “Drunk Hulk” has been behind plenty of viral content over the years, says Ukraine has been incredibly clear in its use of memes.

“A meme’s ability to re-contextualise what we’re seeing in the world in order to subvert, inspire, provoke, and educate is redefining how we can reach people,” he says.

– ‘Express our outrage’ –

Vincent Miller of Kent university in the UK, author of “Understanding Digital Culture”, sees memes as a kind of conversation that can enable political debate to flourish.

“Given their anonymous nature and origins, memes allow people to avoid a lot of the friction and social divisiveness often involved with making political statements online,” he told AFP.

Whether impactful or not, memes will continue to proliferate around the war.

Ukraine’s official Twitter, after a two-week hiatus, returned to memes on the weekend, posting an image ridiculing Russian tanks and another highlighting the collapsing Russian economy.

Annons

Other Twitter users continued to post images hailing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“At the moment in my feed he is being idolised,” says Gere, “turned into this figure of nobility and courage and real manliness as opposed to ersatz manliness”.

One of the most popular memes has been casting Zelensky as a Marvel superhero.

His Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has not fared so well, variously depicted cowering behind his massive marble table, begging China for help or just looking ridiculous in a variety of ways.

“I know we’re not talking about revolutionary tactics here,” says Dumais, “but memes in this context are significantly better than adding the Ukrainian flag to your social media profile”.

He points out that creating memes requires at least some engagement with the subject.

“They allow us to express our outrage and help remove the feeling of helplessness,” he says.

Annons



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Snapchat Launches New Localized Lens Promotion for ‘House of the Dragon’

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Snapchat Launches New Localized Lens Promotion for ‘House of the Dragon’

Yes, I know that you were burned by the final season of Game of Thrones, in which your favorite character did something so inexplicable that it ruined all seven seasons or preceding development, to the point where you can hardly bear to look at a map of Westeros ever again

But Game of Thrones is about to make a comeback, albeit in different form, with the prequel ‘House of the Dragon’ set to premiere on HBO this weekend.

And past traumas aside, it could be good (George RR Martin says that it’s much more aligned with his original vision), and either way, we do get to see those amazing dragons on TV once again.

Which is the focus of the latest campaign on Snapchat, which enables Snap users to transform themselves into dragons via various AR activations within the app’s Lens tools.

Which looks kind of cool – but even more interesting, from a social media marketing standpoint, is this element of the latest HBO/Snap campaign:

"Snap and HBO Max have also coordinated with members of Snap’s Lens Network from around the world to build custom Landmarker AR experiences in their local markets. This is the first partnership to pair a brand with a diverse group of Lens Creators at a global scale.”

House of the Dragon Snap Lens

In what could be a new consideration for large-scale launches, or even for smaller brands looking to collaborate with a range of creators in different regions, Snap has facilitated a new, global partnership, with various Lens makers, to enable new forms of localized engagement with these Lens activations. 

“In order to execute the campaign, HBO Max provided the Lens Creators with AR assets for each dragon to build the new Landmarker Lenses. Each Lens Creator personally selected the location for their individual Landmarker Lens, bringing a powerful local element to this global campaign.”

Annons

The Lenses will be available at the following locations once the show begins:

  • Los Angeles – Venice Beach Grand Canals, built by Francis Chen
  • Rio De Janeiro – Princess Isabel Statue, built by Vitulo & Co
  • London – Tower Bridge, built by Clara Bacou
  • Chennai – Sankagiri Fort, built by RBKavin Studio
  • Mumbai – CST Station (IE Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus), built by Mohnish Raut and Persica Picardo
  • Prague – Charles Bridge, built by Inna Horobchuk

What’s more, the activations will evolve throughout the season, with new dragons that appear in the show also becoming available in these displays.

It’s an interesting expansion on the usual Lens campaign approach, with the more localized approach potentially helping to improve engagement, and get even more Snap users engaged in the show.

Which, as noted, could be a hard sell – but then again, if the show is actually good, that could help to wash away at least some of the bad taste left in fans’ mouths after the terrible Game of Thrones season finale.

And from a digital marketing perspective, it could highlight a new way to work with Snap’s growing network of creators to build more inclusive, regionally relevant, engaging experiences.

More than 250,000 Lens Creators have already built over 2.5 million Lenses through Snap’s ‘Lens Studio’ AR creation tool. That’s a lot of potential for broader integrations via Snap campaigns.

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