Hamburger Helper in its natural habitat, via Flickr user David_Jones.
Twitter is basically just a bunch of cannons firing confetti into a great abyss. As we’ve learned by observing the 140-character prose of everyone from Amanda “I Want Drake to Murder My Vagina” Bynes to 50 “You Look Autistic” Cent, celebrities, teenagers, and C-list comedians are all totally willing to barf out whatever half-baked thought floats through their minds. Somewhere between a PR nightmare and a serious opportunity for audience engagement, it places fans, brands, and public figures in direct contact with one another in an endless banter of awkward conversations. Major food corporations like General Mills have decided to go rogue, jumping into the Twitter conversation with tweets from brand characters like Hamburger Helper, who is frequently tweeting about Lil B, referencing Kendrick Lamar lyrics, and making sexual innuendos.
Hamburger Helper—now simply known as Helper—has adopted the editorial voice of a 14-year-old 4chan B-tard and Odd Future fan. The face—or hand, technically—of the brand mascot is Lefty, an ageless, four-fingered, anthropomorphic white glove. His product personality used to be that of a cute, tame, Pillsbury Doughboy–like figure that resonated with middle-aged moms. These days, he’s casually calling followers “bae,” referring to Hamburger Helper's dinner-in-a-box as “swag,” and vibing out to the new Drake album.
Although the Hamburger Helper brand has been around since 1971, the @Helper Twitter account only materialized this past March. Lefty didn’t start posting regularly until late May of this year, but has since accumulated over 8,000 followers. With a slogan that boasts “trolling lame dinners since 1971,” @Helper can be found imploring the #HelperArmy to demonstrate their devotion to “his” products:
And converting Kendrick Lamar lyrics into Helper speak:
And making sexual innuendoes with a hyper-aware cultural vocabulary:
And then there’s the ongoing relationship with rapper Lil B and a shared kinship philosophy of #basedness:
All of this branding is sanctioned by a product line owned by General Mills. I can't help but wonder: Who the fuck is writing this? Is General Mills aware that the Twitter account for one of its products has been abducted by someone who sounds like Earl Sweatshirt? Does the president of General Mills know what “based” means? Who actually buys Hamburger Helper?
Desperate for answers, I hunted down Eric Johnson, head of digital marketing at General Mills, to get a better sense of what’s going on with @Helper. According to Eric, all kinds of people buy Hamburger Helper's products, including moms feeding their families and young men cooking for themselves for the first time. "With Twitter, we’re primarily focused on a slightly younger, male audience," Eric said.
The voice behind @Helper is a mystery moderator "personality," crafted by a marketing team that "has spent a lot of time with consumers, which has fueled consumer intuition on this." Eric believes that it is essential that members on the marketing team enjoy all the things that they tweet about, from hip-hop to TV shows to death metal.
When I asked him why a four-fingered glove is suddenly quoting Lil B, Eric explained that "our brand cares about the same stuff that our fans care about and we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously." Lil B came into the Twitter narrative when a member of the Based Fam asked @Helper what his favorite Lil B song was. According to Eric, "We naturally responded with 'I Am God,' but mentioned that we also really dig Clams Casino’s production work."
Obviously, everything that any major commercial corporation does is geared towards gaining market share—we’re not stupid enough to think that major food conglomerates just want to be our BFFs for kicks. And actually, other dinners in a box seem to be catching on to the idea of freaking out customers, with DiGiorno Pizza leading the way. The frozen pizza brand is hurling football-related all-caps insults at a random slew of followers that inexplicably includes Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus.
The weird part is that the origin of this kind of humor is part of Reddit and 4chan, sites that were once considered nerdy zones far from commercial interests. Is it a good thing that major corporations are loosening up in extremely tageted ways, or is it the equivalent of Drew Barrymore playing an undercover reporter in Never Been Kissed, trying to talk “the talk” in order to earn the trust of the cool kids?
Eric told me that, "Short-term revenue increase isn’t Helper’s number-one priority… We have long-term brand building goals in mind.” Could the next step in brand-building be a commercial with Lil B and his cat in a plume of weed smoke, scarfing Helper out of a Tupperware container while babbling gibberish at the camera?
Could be, bae.
Follow Hilary on Twitter: @jaggedlittlehil