Welcome to the first instalment of Stop It, where we tell people to Stop It. This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
The brands have been sentient for some time now. Twitter accounts for various territories of the same company (VICE included) are regularly seen having a back-and-forth. Tesco Mobile "sasses" its customers. Chili's refers to its patrons as “bae” – an occurrence so common there is a whole account dedicated to compiling all the instances of brands saying bae. We should have let Y2K happen, but we didn’t, and now this is the world we live in.
You can divide opinion on the phenomenon of “brands tweeting like people” into two camps. The first sees it as part of a broad corporate marketing strategy that preys on a consumer desire for authenticity. The second considers it a meaningless necessity. In other words, these accounts exist as a formality – especially when it’s a food brand or an arm of public service. No real thought goes into the content because these are mostly companies run by old men who say “texted” and probably don’t know there’s an underpaid 22-year-old tweeting memes, to remind the Deliveroo generations that confectionary is still available in shops.
Both of these interpretations make me depressed. One implies we’re all so pathetic and lonely that Wendy’s “roasting” McDonalds with a photo of a bin is enough to make us rush out to buy a chicken wrap as recompense for a split second of mirth. The other makes me think about all the millennials toiling away in an open plan office, talking to 6 million people in silence on behalf of a chocolate brand – which is, arguably, an even sadder image. Both of these interpretations are also accurate, but a nadir was reached this week and now I really must ask the brands to Stop It.
The Super Bowl happened on Monday. It was so uneventful that for the first time in years it passed by without me even noticing (yes, I’m British, but American culture asserts itself so loudly it’s usually impossible to ignore). I woke up to some photos of Adam Levine looking like the header image for a Hard Times article, and that was about it. So boring was the Super Bowl, in fact, that the only newsworthy aspect became all the nonsense food brands were tweeting at each other during the game.
To summarise: Sunny Delight tweeted “I can’t do this anymore”. Then Pop Tarts, Moon Pie, and Uber Eats piled in with messages of psychological support. Then there were several days of discourse about how – as one tweet put it – “commoditizing the concept of depression and mental health issues to sell fucking sunny D is not OK”. All of which makes me feel sick.
Sometimes, we attribute too much power to social media. It’s in our nature now to jump to the most deplorable hypothetical scenario and get mad at it, but realistically food and drinks companies don’t need to come up with an exploitative Twitter scheme to make money. They’re food and drinks companies – old, established ones, at that. If the thing tastes good, that’s the majority of their marketing done. The main consumers of Pop-Tarts are parents of three; they don’t need a maniacal social media strategist to up their clout. McDonalds couldn’t possibly have a worse reputation, and yet it remains the largest fast food chain in the world, because nothing tweets as good as nuggets taste. I don’t care about a soft drink company making a joke that, out of context, reads like a suicide note – and I am literally depressed.
I don’t care about the possibility of brands leveraging a trending topic into a low-cost opportunity to peddle their wares, either. That’s no worse than the paid-for advertising that occurs during the Super Bowl itself, where dedicated viewers were treated to footage of Carrie Bradshaw having a Stella with The Dude. That's no worse than pretty much anyone who uses Twitter as part of their job.
We like to opine about how we’re living in some dystopian universe where brands and technology conspire to rule supreme, but things really aren’t that different to how they’ve always been, as far as advertising is concerned. In the 90s it was children Doing Acting and singing mental songs to flog sweets; now, it’s brands with legacies three times older than their audience, talking in first person while parroting Extremely Online language in the name of #engagement. I don’t believe hordes of new customers are rushing out to buy a formerly scandalous orange juice drink just because they saw a mildly amusing tweet, but even if they are: that is an issue to take up with the human condition.
If we're being honest with ourselves, the real culprit here is ‘big mood’.
‘Big mood’ is simple in message and broad in scope. It’s basically “you”, but self-referential. Like many memes, “big mood” has no fixed origin. Know Your Meme traced its first use in popular culture back to Deftones’ 1997 anthem “My Own Summer (Shove It)” – a song about singer Chino Moreno not liking the sun and putting tin foil over his windows to block it out (which, tbf, is a very big mood). The phrase proliferated on Twitter and Tumblr in 2015, and now everything is a “big mood”. A screaming baby on the Central Line: big mood. A small dog being carried by its owner because it’s too tired to walk: big mood. Deflated tire: big mood. Selfie from someone in hospital – sunken eyes, hooked up to a complex network of drips, looking absolutely fucked – big mood.
It strikes the perfect balance between cynical and infantilising, and as such is a catch-all response to all situations for all personality types. Hence:
Due to its particular relevance in our times – times so chaotic that we pile on anything that manages to distill something multifaceted into something funny – “big mood” is too easily co-opted. It has been infiltrated by impure forces and now must be destroyed. The only reason I log onto Twitter anymore is to snicker at a photo of Pat Butcher smoking a fag before going about my day. The last thing I need is the last bastion of comic relief online being tainted by snack brands performing an interlude about mental health.