When Barack Obama tweeted last February “Tomorrow: @HouseOfCards. No spoilers, please,” it was more than just his 41.9 million Twitter followers that took notice. Entertainment shows, politico blogs, and even heavy-hitters like The Wall Street Journal shared the news that The Leader of the Free World watches a wildly popular television show.
Whether or not it was actually one of his staffers that created the now-infamous tweet, or the POTUS himself (usually marked by a signed “–bo”), it didn’t really seem to matter. Already, the president had gained numerous “cool points” for referencing a Netflix Original show whose premiere date the public had been eagerly anticipating. Even the First Lady has been increasing her online presence by Instagramming those ever-important #TBT (Throwback Thursday) photos, usually from her pre-White House life, bringing a sense of normalcy to the Obama family.
This kind of intentional relatability is not entirely new for political figures. It’s not uncommon for politicians to awkwardly cameo in television shows that cater to the 18–30 set; NBC’s Saturday Night Live practically serves as a presidential rite of passage. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the way to gain influence over the tail end of the Millennials and the upcoming “iGeneration” is no longer through subtle means or even subliminal messaging.
As a new marketing breakthrough, companies are taking cues from these highly publicized online figures by cutting out the middleman. Brands are slowly moving away from more conventional methods of marketing – such as paid sponsorship and exhaustedly ad-cluttered websites – in favor of creating an online persona. It’s no longer enough for brands to push their goods and services on the public through simplified language, celebrity endorsements, and the promise of sales. The key now is to show relatability by using wit, popular references, and in some cases, pure audacity.
Rather than patronize users by speaking down to them in an effort to sell, many companies are learning the ins and outs of the site and then creating like-minded campaigns to win affection. Last year, to promote their vehicle Versa Note as the first car to ever be sold on Amazon, Nissan Motor Co. used a Reddit-sponsored headline to ask the question: “If you could buy anything on Amazon, what would it be?” The automobile company then sifted through the users’ responses to purchase some of the items that had been listed. While this could been seen as an attempt to buy Redditors’ affections, the magic comes from the fact that no matter how ridiculous some of the responses were, Nissan took them seriously. This resulted in lots of positive press for the company, and the story of Nissan sending a package of 4,500 live ladybugs to a user with a joke request spread like wildfire.
One of the more brilliant companies who understand the proper mix of ridiculous-yet-topical humor to satisfy the younger generation is fast food giant Taco Bell. To gain its 1.32 million+ Twitter followers, Taco Bell puts creativity and silliness into the majority of its tweets. The company targets those in the 16-34 age group, knowing that not only are those the majority of people on Twitter, but they’re also the ideal customer demographic for the chain. The account intentionally focuses on comedic celebrities, tweets great one-liners that are good for a chuckle (“Buy her Taco Bell. Girls love Taco Bell.”), and actually responds to general members of the public who have tweeted them. Beyond that, they’ve uploaded creative Vines and popular culture-based photographs specifically to introduce new products, even successfully getting a few of their new menu items trending.
Taco Bell has become a popular account to follow because they know the lingo and type of humor to abide by in order to gain buzz. And while showing restraint is not by any means how Taco Bell operates online, they still understand the importance of running a clean, ethical company. When an upset customer tweeted about being assaulted by a store manager, Taco Bell responded with: “We don’t tolerate harassment of ANY kind. Please contact us ASAP at [email protected].”
Not only do people in younger generations see through brands’ old attempts at subliminal advertising, but they also resent them for it. When a company opts to bring themselves to the level of the customer through a mutual understanding of humour, it displays empathy worth remembering. In a world of fast fashion and fast food, it’s getting easier to gain fast followers. But the importance lies in utilizing these social media outlets properly in order to build a loyal consumer base. The sooner companies find a way to relate to the general public, the larger the marketing breakthrough will be – and the harder we’ll laugh for it.
Photo: “Laughing at the Beach” by Craig Cochrane