‘Brand Twitter’ is a gross manipulation of human empathy
Social media is a major frontier for advertisers. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram are all home to thousands of accounts for brands ranging from Wendy’s to Crest Toothpaste to Geico to Steak-Umms. These accounts are advertisements, like the commercials people skip with TiVo or the banner ads people block with ad blocker. But for some reason, people willingly follow brand accounts so they can have advertisements served directly to them every time they look at their phone.
Many of these brands have crafted specific personae. Arby’s has posted and promoted tweets directed at fans of anime, video games and web comics, all of which are meant to convince people to eat their terrible rubbery sandwiches. Wendy’s has attracted some attention for “clapping back” and roasting their followers and competitors with oh-so-snarky witticisms. Again, the motive is to convince you to buy their food.
This personification and individualization of brands has taken an ominous turn. On Feb. 3, Sunny D—an orange beverage consisting primarily of water and corn syrup—tweeted “I can’t do this anymore,” earning nearly 350,000 Likes as of this writing. This elicited concerned responses from people and brands alike: Moon Pie, Pop Tarts, PornHub, Little Debbie and Crest toothpaste all chimed in to see if Sunny D was okay. The theory that this tweet may have been a genuine cry for help from the person tasked with running Sunny D’s twitter is countered by the fact that the tweet was not deleted and in fact the account has engaged with many of the replies in a lighthearted fashion.
Depression is a serious and worsening issue, and the rate of suicide in the United States rose nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2016 according to a study by the CDC. A statement like “I can’t do this anymore” can be a warning sign, and a very scary thing to hear from somebody you care about.
When someone you care about says “I can’t do this anymore,” a natural response is to reach out and try and help them, because you have an emotional connection with them and don’t want to see them hurt. When a brand posts the same thing, they are attempting to exploit that type of emotional connection for the purpose of cementing their brand in your brain like it’s a real person.
“Brand Twitter” is not your friend. Tweets from Wendy’s “clapping back” on Burger King are not the same as tweets from your friends. Wendy’s and Burger King and Sunny D are all on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram for the express purpose of selling you a shitty hamburger or their neon-yellow citrus drink or any other product.
When a brand tries to relate to your ironic millennial sense of humor or, worse, your crushing sense of despair, it is again to secure their brand a space in your mind so you will buy their products.
Sunny D is not a person, the Keebler Elves are not real people, Wendy and the Burger King are advertising constructs. There are real people behind the accounts, sure, but they aren’t posting as themselves; they are inhabiting that brand, which exists distinctly from themselves.
Frequently, a team of people workshops these posts. This is the case for Denny’s social media team, which pays close attention to social media trends to make the most insufferable posts imaginable to Twitter and Tumblr.
It is reprehensible. Each of these brands that pretend to be a person, who pretends to be your friend joking around with you, is trying to advertise to you without you knowing it. You should not retweet them, unless you are being paid to. You should not interact with sassy Twitter brands. You should block them. You are constantly being advertised to, and that is not normal.
When your friends post cries for help, you should reach out and help them. When a sugary fruit drink mimics a cry for help to sell you something, you should block it.
~Miller Bowe, Staff Writer~