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How Steak-Umm—yes, that Steak-Umm—became a voice of reason in the pandemic

The voices behind the frozen meat sheets brand discuss responsible media consumption and the analysis of good data in a crisis. Seriously.

How Steak-Umm—yes, that Steak-Umm—became a voice of reason in the pandemic
[Photos: Steak-Umm; Soonios Pro/Pexels]

When a crisis hits, people look to a variety of sources for reassurance, advice, calm, and inspiration. These typically include a mix of family, friends, government officials, law enforcement, experts in a given field, clergy, and other figures of authority.

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Rarely, if ever, has this list included frozen processed meat sheets.

That changed Monday night after a Steak-Umm Twitter thread that offered a sobering string of advice on media literacy, disinformation, and staying informed amid the pandemic.

“It was more just a cumulative effect of me having a job to spend every moment on social, seeing a constant flow of information, and a lot of it wasn’t good information,” says Nathan Allebach of the agency Allebach Communications, who has been the human behind Steak-Umm’s social media since 2015. Despite the thread being posted at 10 p.m., Allebach says it wasn’t prompted by a specific moment or piece of news. “I know we’re in this state of panic, and heightened cultural anxiety, so people aren’t at their best all the time, thinking about where they’re getting their information.”

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The reaction since Monday night’s tweetstorm has been a mix of gratitude and surprise. Collectively, we’re appreciating the message and bemused by the messenger.

It’s not the first time that Steak-Umm has gone viral for taking its Twitter account beyond the typical purview of goofy marketing. Back in 2018, another thread gained widespread attention for how it addressed social isolation, student loan debt, and generational angst associated with a lack of job opportunity, and a cultural obsession with repackaging of nostalgia into cynical products.

Whether or not you take comfort in the fact that a brand can offer high-quality analysis and advice on a serious topic, the more people with audiences encouraging the spread of true, scientific data can only be a good thing.

Coca-Cola has caught on, taking a page from the Steak-Umm playbook and tweeting out Tuesday morning, “Our Twitter is going to look a little different as we donate our social feeds to experts and partners sharing helpful information. Stay tuned for messages making a difference.”

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Steak-Umm’s social voice and tone for the past few weeks has managed to balance acknowledging the unique circumstances of the pandemic while also maintaining its long-established sense of humor. Monday night’s thread was the second in as many weeks to earnestly address a broader, non-frozen beef topic, namely “the challenges of misinformation, media inundation, partisanship, and cultural polarization.”

“A lot of what we’ve been thinking and talking about, in terms of how to present Steak-Umm on social right now, is around how we can add valuable content to people who are in need, in some way, shape, or form,” says Allebach. “It’s a weird situation for brands to be in right now, to not be overtly advertising their products, while also trying to add PSAs, but not wanting to be bland about it. It’s just been a process of seeing where the country and the world is at and trying to see if we can interject some thoughtful commentary into the mix.”

The response so far has been enthusiastic from across the cultural spectrum, including libraries, scientists, journalists, actors, VC investors, and state Supreme Court justices.

Allebach says he thinks it caught on for the same reason that the thread about young people in 2018 did. “There are two levels to it: One is we’re trying to create thoughtful, thought-provoking messages that get people from across the political and cultural spectrum to reevaluate their own biases, with a bit of a slap in the face on your timeline,” he says. “Then there’s the deeper, ironic level of the brand itself, that the message is coming from a frozen meat company.”

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If anything, that’s the one unifying sentiment. “Looking at all the responses, the overwhelming rhetoric being tied to this is, What kind of a world are we living in where frozen beef is making this much sense?” says Allebach. “It’s the absurdity of a frozen meat company being the messenger here.”

Of course it’s absurd, but one of the reasons it has not been immediately dismissed is the consistency in voice that Allebach has established for the brand over the years. Right now, Steak-Umm is looking for more ways to amplify some of that good data it’s tweeting about and use its reach to shine a spotlight on those helping the most. The brand’s account director at Allebach, Jesse Bender, says they’re listening and engaging more, as opposed to throwing out memes. “We’re looking for people who are impacting others in this crisis and trying to amplify and help them in their own community,” says Bender. “That’s a new initiative for us, trying to help the people who are helping people.”

Allebach says that’s about finding a meaningful role in this unprecedented situation.

“Right now we’re just trying to listen and to insert thoughtful dialogue into the online discourse, trying to find opportunities and people we could be helping, while also encouraging people who already follow our brand to play their part in helping,” he says. “We’re going to play our role as best we can, and try to encourage others to do the same.”

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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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