Humanized Brand Accounts Have Peaked

It was only a matter of time. As large consumer brands allowed their social media teams to push the line of acceptable posts further and further, eventually one of them would cross it.

Sunny Delight discovered this in early February, tweeting an angsty “I can’t do this anymore” without context as to what the anthropomorphized bottle of juice could no longer do. This offered the perfect opportunity for every brand with a liberated social media team to jump in and console the sad, sentient juice.

Wikipedia, Crest, PopTarts, UberEats, even PornHub rushed to support Sunny Delight in its moment of distress. Their responses ranged from genuine concern to thinly veiled plugs for their own products and services. It is important to remember that Sunny Delight is a beverage incapable of emotion.

One of the first responses came from Moon Pie, a vintage cookie sandwich that is known for its irreverent humor and edgy tweets. After being asked what the tweet was in reference to, Sunny Delight responded “Mood last night. All good MP thanks for checking in ily”

The responses to this exchange (the ones from actual humans) were… not great.

While the public generally applauds brands like Moon Pie or Wendy’s, who openly insults their own fans without remorse, the majority of top-level responses to these tweets were overwhelmingly negative. The first response, “Honestly fuck the both of you,” has over 5,000 likes. Are audiences finally turning on the self-aware brands?

It’s possible. This is one of the first times we have seen a net-negative reaction from this approach to social media. Perhaps in an age where the importance and fragility of mental health are increasingly in the spotlight, a post that suggested suicidal thoughts was in poor taste (it was). Perhaps it was the sheer number of brands responding that made the entire thing look like a publicity stunt (it did). Whatever the cause, we now know that the utilization of the humanized brand account does, in fact, have its limits. As a result, we may see more restraint in the usage of these strategies which were previously treasure troves of free media coverage.

Consumers can sense when they are being pandered to. It’s one of the reasons advertising evolves. Where once we had men in suits waxing poetic about the revolutionary nature of TV dinners, we now have influencers and brands that feel more like our friends. We trust them.

What made Wendy’s so successful with this approach was that it felt like the person behind the account was breaking the rules, that at any minute they might get caught and fired. It made the experience exciting, and it made the audience root for Wendy’s.

Sunny Delight’s post, which resulted in no less than 10 other brands jumping into the responses, felt opportunistic. Instead of imagining a rogue employee with whom we can identify, it painted the picture of marketing teams on a conference call discussing the timing of their posts. There was no thrill. It felt like a trick. A trick that touched on the sensitive topic of suicidal thoughts, no less.

While the age of the humanized brand account is probably not over, it is certainly peaking. As more players attempt to enter the game, we will see more misfires and consequentially more executives that consider the whole enterprise too risky for the free press. Expect to see more accounts attempting a sanitized, safer approach to this method (which won’t resonate or work for any of them), and a shrinking number of brands that can continue to toe the line of an ever-shifting, always unforgiving internet culture.