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Sir, this is an Arby’s: Why Brand Twitter won’t take a stance against war with Iran

This is a compelling experiment in social media dynamics. Just don’t expect an answer from Wendy’s or anyone else.

Sir, this is an Arby’s: Why Brand Twitter won’t take a stance against war with Iran
[Images: OpenClipart-Vectors/Pixabay; Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay (Symbol) (Bird)]

Last night, Ken Klippenstein, a reporter with The Young Turks and The Intercept, kicked off an experiment with Brand Twitter. Starting with Sunny Delight, he began DMing brands, asking them to condemn war with Iran.

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It encouraged more people to do the same, and Colin Kalmbacher, a lawyer and author, took things a step further and publicly tagged as many brands as he could with the same question.

When the most controversial thing you’ve done is drop a double entendre reply to Netflix, this may come as a shock. Most brands play the Twitter game where they’re your hip friend. Imagine some irony-poisoned, 24-year-old social-media manager coming into work this morning, opening up their brand account and being like, “Oh f**k, this isn’t just dunking on the Taco Bell account.”

What appears to be a personality is actually a carefully structured and mapped out strategy. Spoiler alert: Steak-Umm’s infamous existential millennial life crisis thread wasn’t the philosophical waxing of an enlightened intern. But hey, it’s also pretty funny?

Brands aren’t immune to political statement or stands, but even those exceptions stay closer to domestic issues that directly impact the company’s business, its employees, and customers. Patagonia stands up for public lands. Google spoke out against President Trump’s travel ban. Nike backed Colin Kaepernick, with whom it already had a business relationship. Impending war just isn’t one of them. As far as we know, nobody in the late ’80s asked Spuds Mackenzie his opinion on the Iran-Contra affair, or demanded to know the Geico gecko’s stance on the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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Still, this is different. As silly as it sounds, social media has created a two-way conversation between brands and their audiences. Brands have used it to build up personalities, mimicking genuine human communication in order to forge a more emotional connection that will eventually convince you to buy their burgers, toothpaste, cars, whatever.

But as a consequence of trying to be everybody’s buddy, that audience now has new expectations. The compelling part of this trolling exercise is how it so clearly exploits the divide between the business of Brand Twitter and real life.

Even if by some miracle, one of these brands did decide to speak out, let’s face it: it’d probably still try to make a meme of it. What’s something you can say to protest impending global war but also when you manage a Brand Twitter account?

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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