[Internet] Cultural Marketing
Why it’s time we embrace social as more than novelty
I cringe every time I hear someone mention “The Oreo Tweet” or “Nuggs for Carter”, but there’s something so incredibly profound about these two moments, that they rightfully deserves to continually exist in marketing discourse for as long as they have.
/ Quick Recap
During the 2013 Super Bowl a power outage occurred a little after half-time. During the game’s pause, Oreo instantaneously acknowledged the opportunity, and promoted their cookie while inserting themselves into the raging online discussion. With their timely interjection, Oreo was deemed the real winner of the Super Bowl and amassed an astounding year’s worth of social engagement in a single, unplanned tweet.
Years later in 2017, Carter Wilkerson jokingly asked Wendy’s how many retweets he needed to receive a year’s worth of free chicken nuggets. Although Wendy’s demanded 18 million, Carter somehow amassed over 3-million, setting the record for the most retweeted tweet of all time, all while bringing together all corners of the internet. Carter got his chicken nuggets, and Wendy’s, incalculable exposure.
/ Making the Story
What’s worth noting from these two stories is that Oreo’s brand and product had nothing to do with football, sports or energy malfunctions, and Carter was not a contracted influencer nor approved spokesperson for Wendy’s. And neither moments were on the “content calendar” nor aligned with a “brand pillar”. Yet for these industry-altering moments to occur, both brands had 1. a proactive creative strategy and 2. an understanding of [internet] culture. In today’s landscape, this is a savage/dank/lit/fire combination for any brand.
In all seriousness though, what differentiates these two examples from other [internet] culture insertions like brands joining The Dress, “Damn, Daniel” or trending hashtags, is that Oreo and Wendy’s sought out their moments and made them into something. There were no invitations. Oreo didn’t wait until it was safe when other brands were already discussing the blackout, and Wendy’s didn’t ignore Carter because he was just some obscure “fan”. They turned nothing into something, and only did so because they understood the intricate dynamics of both content and users online. They understood the opportunity in [internet] culture.
Everyday, rising videos, thriving tweets, developing trends, swelling conversations, spreading headlines and budding memes, go unacknowledged because of a brand’s myopic perspective. These untapped nuggets of inspiration and creativity are moments waiting to be owned.
/ The Pain
There are three reasons why we don’t see brands tap into [internet] culture…
Quantity — No one is consistently keeping a proactive eye out for these rising opportunities to join
Speed — It takes too long for what’s popular to reach the marketer (not to mention the planning and response time)
Accuracy — Marketers lack the context it takes to ensure the opportunity is the right one to join
/ Too Much
With 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube, 65k photos uploaded to Instagram, 3.3m posts shared on Facebook, and 448k tweets sent on Twitter… every single minute, it’s clear how brands can’t find their moments. But with that said, it’s also fair to say, with this much content, brands are missing out on innumerable creative opportunities left and right. There’s a critical disparity. And not only do moments that a brand can “relate to” slip by the wayside, but more painfully, opportunities directly revolving around a brand also go untapped. While marketers drone on asking, “How do you get consumers’ attention?”, all along, consumers have been trying to get the eyes of brands with their content. It’s time to find it, and use it.
/ Too Slow
As BBH Labs documented, it took marketers nearly 50 days to acknowledge the Big Shaq “Man’s Not Hot” meme since the video was first posted to Twitter. Unfortunately here, a brand risks doing more harm than good acknowledging this moment 50 days later, illustrating sluggish and out of touch qualities, rather than savviness, relevancy and understanding. Time is of the essence when dealing with [internet] culture.
/ Too Stupid
But quickly finding these [internet] cultural opportunities is not the only challenge — it’s knowing what to do with them that’s the real hard part. Take a peek at the r/FellowKids subreddit, which is an embarrassing graveyard of brands’ cringeworthy attempts of acknowledging [internet] culture. To succeed in this space, it’s more than just quantity and speed, but background, context and intelligence as well.
/ Looking Forward
What’s laid out here is a seemingly daunting task. Not only does a marketer need to consistently keep an eye and ear out for opportunities, but they need to have the speed and intelligence to respond accordingly. Looking back, it makes sense that we don’t see more Oreo or Wendy’s moments, but rather more r/FellowKids submissions.
Social is no longer just a novelty or channel, but a cultural institution, one that’s becoming synonymous with pop-culture proper. To differentiate the two is to denounce the relationship between on and offline, while in fact there’s complete permeation. [Internet] culture is just… culture.
To understand culture is to understand social media, and to understand this space, one must be intensely studying everyday rising videos, thriving tweets, developing trends, swelling conversations, spreading headlines and budding memes. This is where today’s zeitgeist forms whether we like it or not. No longer are brands dictating the story — consumers are now telling it for them.
As history has shown, brands unable to adapt, die. And in an accelerating landscape, to be unplugged from [internet] culture will soon prove to be deadly. So what’s your brand doing to stay up to speed and informed?