Ads. Ads are everywhere. According to the folks over at Red Crow Marketing Inc., the average American is exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements every day. This figure may seem high, but if you consider any branding, insignia, or logo used by companies for identification purposes to be an ‘ad’, it’s not too far fetched. Of course, the number of ads that one sees in any given day depends very much on their activities and engagement with retail stores, multimedia platforms, etc. If, for example, one was to sit around and watch television for an hour or two each day, they would witness between 16 and 32 minutes of pure advertisements, discounting ads within the shows or other content that they are primarily watching. Until the advent of the internet, companies were limited to advertising their products using traditional media, but after the internet transformed from a gimmick into a commodity, companies sought to expand their marketing to the online space in new and creative ways. For the most part, these were limited to pop-ups or banner ads which lined the sides of the screen or were littered throughout the site. For a while, that was the extent of internet marketing. That is, until social media came along.
Once sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter started to gain traction, it became apparent to corporations that social media could be a valuable tool for advertising and customer feedback. For years, corporations tried to capitalize on the sheer marketing potential of social media, with little success. While some companies launched relatively-successful campaigns through the use of polls or giveaways, none could seem to grasp the chaotic, self-aware essence of internet culture. None, except for Denny’s. On April 9th, 2013, Denny’s social media coordinator Amber Gordon created an official Tumblr account, which curated memes that revolved around the restaurant and many of its food items, complete with referential humor that was on par with the likes of 4chan, iFunny, and 9gag – at least at the time. The account even engaged in occasional banter with other tumblr users, which became memes themselves, the most famous example being:
hellaspookyking: r u single?
dennys: we are a restaurant
The account was a hit. Denny’s had done what other companies had only dreamt of. Soon, other restaurants were hiring their own social media staff, all attempting to mimic Denny’s style, with varying degrees of success. Fast-food joints like Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King were notable contenders. However, for several years, no brand could match Denny’s meme-sense, and most attempts were either half-baked or fell completely flat. Some, unfortunately, even pushed into cringeworthy territory, with one of the most notorious examples of this being Wendy’s “Eats Spicy Goodness – Like a Boss” ad, which ironically gained popularity for how dated and out of touch it was. It seemed, for a while at least, that Denny’s would hold the title of social-media-branding king indefinitely. Then, it happened. Like a massive, terrifying wave that had been building off at sea, the internet was flooded with ironic memes from nearly every major player in the food industry. Chick-fil-A, Moe’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Arby’s, etc. Every chain had a Twitter, or a Facebook, or a Tumblr to which they solicited relatable memes. Even non-fast-food brands joined in the fun. Over the course of six years, there have been hundreds and hundreds of memes posted by these accounts. Seemingly out of nowhere, Taco Bell was referencing The Legend of Zelda, SunnyD was having late night talks with MoonPies and Wendy’s was picking fights with, well, everyone,it was chaos.
At first, the internet ate it up. Finally, companies understood how to market to the younger generation. Surely, these accounts would usher in a new era for marketing more effective and far-reaching than ever before! The only problem was, companies were quickly becoming a little too relatable. Every corporate entity had a presence on social media with a snarky, self-aware personality of its own. The number of ‘serious’ posts became hopelessly outweighed by the numerous comebacks, disses and memes. Burger King was taking shots at McDonald’s, offering free whoppers to everyone who passed a McDonald’s location before dining in. DiGiorno Pizza mistakenly replied to the domestic abuse hashtag on Twitter #WhyIStayed with the response “You had pizza.” And, of course, who could forget the wonderful exchange between Fox News, Chick-fil-A, and Wendy’s:
Fox News: Chick-fil-A is officially America’s favorite fast food restaurant
Chick-fil-a: Imagine if we opened on Sunday’s. Had to give everyone else (like
Wendy’s) a chance to make money
Wendy’s: Your mom is a hoe
It was clear that things were getting out of hand. But how could the internet, a place full of millions of anonymous, creative minds and unique personalities, voice their contempt of such gross corporate intervention? Simple. With memes.
In December of 2016, a meme was posted on 4chan’s ‘Politically Incorrect’ board (also known as “/pol”) which pictured a large, Godzilla-esque monster breathing fire, with the caption “Shut the f*** up Liberal.” The meme spread like wildfire, with edits popping up every which way, such as “Shut the f*** up, Marxist”, etc. About two years later, a picture of spider crab with blue laser eyes was posted to the Cursed Images subreddit. Within a few months, the memes had been combined to make a new format, which read: “Silence, liberal.” It didn’t take long after that for the internet to forge what has now become the meme “Silence, BRAND” which has circulated the comment sections of corporate Twitter posts for months.
This brings us to today. Brands continue to post meme-worthy content, and while there are some people who genuinely enjoy the back-and-forth conversations between corporate Twitter accounts and tongue-in-cheek jokes, it has become widely accepted across the internet that these accounts are something to be despised rather than shared, with rare exceptions. Some people have outright cursed at these accounts. Others have simply spammed “Silence, BRAND” in defiance. But, one must ask, can brands ever really be silenced? I don’t believe so. It seems as though, with every major innovation, companies are finding newer ways to market their products. These social media wars are a prime example of that. Even now, some companies have made their own “Silence, BRAND” edits to respond to the waves of hate, such as Funyun’s “Silence, BLANDS” or McDonald’s’ “Silence, Twitter.” So long as there are people to be marketed to, and products to be sold, brands will continue to adapt to the changing market conditions to survive and profit. I believe that the best thing to do as consumers, to counter corporate influence on social media, is to simply acknowledge these accounts exist, recognize the ridiculousness of the situation and move on, that way brands don’t get their desired shares and likes and they’ll be forced to adjust into something new.