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Artificial Intelligence Marketing

Gen AI v gen Z: do androids meme of electric sheep?


By Carolyn McMurray, Founder

May 8, 2024 | 7 min read

With the help of her Word Tonic crew, Carolyn McMurray put AI through its paces to determine if it can come close to interpreting gen Z memes.

Healing Era

The air is thick and charged, the crowd ecstatic. In the red corner is a group of gen Z copywriters. And in the blue corner looms Chat ‘The AI’ GPT 4. And the resulting clash will resemble a rainbow unicorn wrestling with a gigantic, scary-looking Bill Gates.

Now, I know AI is rising up the ranks. And while some studies suggest that two-thirds of all jobs will be in some way automated at some point, there’s one topic in particular where I’m skeptical of its ‘take over everything’ abilities.

And that topic is memes.

As a 23-year-old copywriter, I love memes. I adore them. I send pictures of crying cat bananas to my friends with lil captions like, “this is so you.” And the big sky daddy of advertising seems to really like them too because *wouldn’t you know* they’re a great way of connecting with gen Z.

But it’s not that simple. You can’t just slap a meme into your marketing and expect us to froth at the mouth. It must be done just right, or you risk scaring us off.

So, we set up an experiment pitting a community of gen Z copywriters from Word Tonic against ChatGPT to see if AI can truly grasp the subtle art of meme-ing…


Meme 1, I don't even know how to describe this, it's the fairy godmother from Shrek

Now, I ‘get’ this meme. It gets me. And ChatGPT?

Welllllll. Let’s just say its ‘parental controls’ were set too strict. Because it couldn’t provide any commentary at all because of its “offensive language.” Hardly revolutionary.

And actually, it’s a little inaccurate. Because in GEN-Z topia, “qunt” isn’t a diss; it’s a high-five. It means you’ve killed it. It’s EMPOWERING. AI had misread the situation entirely.

“This is beautiful lingo. It just means you’ve slayed something. If someone is serving qunt, they’ve done something absolutely outstanding.” ~ says Badriya, a poetry masters student from Essex.

(Oh, and FYI, if you’re wondering about the origin of this not-so-innocent-sounding (but totally blameless) word, watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race. That’s where it all started).


Meme 2 in my healing era

An era is any period in your life where you’re entering into something new, good or bad.

At first glance, this meme seems to be talking about self-care. And that’s exactly the conclusion ChatGPT came to as well.

“This meme signifies a period in someone’s life where they are focused on personal growth, recovery from past traumas, or general self-improvement.”

But that’s actually *not* the case at all.

In my view, this meme is tinged with sarcasm. It’s not literal. It’s mocking the idea of self-care and the #thatgirl aesthetic that comes with it, especially with that starry background - which was definitely not just a stylistic choice.

“Our generation tends to ‘yassify’ mental health problems and trauma, and we do it A LOT by using starry imagery. It’s our way of empowering ourselves, I guess. We might be ‘depressed,’ but that’s ‘part of our lore.’ We might have anxiety because of a traumatic situation, but at least it’s giving ‘main character’ energy.” ~ says Yasmin, a 21-year-old copywriter from London.

But funnily enough, this meme left our lil group of gen Z copywriters divided. While some of us saw ‘SARCASM’ in bright blinking lights, others saw something real.

“For me, it’s not so black and white. It could be sarcastic. But I also read it as something positive. If I shared this, I’d be doing it with the intention of ‘I’m putting myself first.’” says Shifa, a 23-year-old copywriter from India.

So, yes.

AI might not have completely missed the mark on this one - but it’s clear it struggled to delve into nuances and explore multiple meanings.


meme 3 consume the child, a banana

Now, the toughest bout: what in the hell does this banana with legs mean?

When prompted, AI responded to this monstrosity: “This is an example of absurd or surreal humor. Consume the child could also be an exaggerated way of saying ‘eat this food.’”

Not bad. But we all thought it was just a little too literal.

“There are certain memes where you don’t look for meaning. It’s just not that deep. And the fact that AI tried to dissect it and give it some deep explanation proves that brands can’t rely on it 110%. If a brand put this out because they thought, ‘that’s what the kids are doing,’ it would come across so cringy.” ~ Badriya

It was like that time Word Tonic created a hamster meme that got into AdAge. We’d originally created it to have zero meaning. None. At. All. And while we were flattered to see it in a big, schmoozy publication, it lost its magic once it was torn apart and picked at.

Meme 4

It’s simple; nonsensical memes like these instantly lose their ‘funny’ when they’re slapped into campaigns or made out to be something bigger than they actually are.

The verdict?

ChatGPT’s a great sidekick, but you definitely can’t rely on it to solve all your gen Z marketing problems, especially memes.

I mean, you could.

But then you’d give off a ‘hey, FELLOW kids’ vibe and no one likes that. Especially gen Z.

So please, talk meme to us. But at least bring in a living, breathing GEN-Zr into the mix who you can get a second opinion from. Someone who can act as a soundboard. Someone who can tell you that ‘it’s honestly just a bit cringe,’ and you’ll be safe.

Happy meme-ing x

Check out what the Word Tonic community looks like here. And if you are a gen Z copywriter, join Word Tonic’s 800+ community here to develop your skills and help answer the big questions.

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