But even as news of Wendy’s good tweets spread through the land, the brand did something to remind us why it’s never the greatest idea to throw a coronation party for a commercial brand on social media:
That’s a Wendy’s version of Pepe, a reaction meme that can mean many things. Lately, though, Pepe the Frog has become known for its pro-Nazi, white supremacist iterations, to the point that it became an entry in the Anti-Defamation League’s directory of hate symbols in the fall, and the subject of a reclamation campaign by the frog’s original artist.
It has also become politicized: The panic among liberals over the Nazi version of Pepe — particularly after the Hillary Clinton campaign wrote about the meme on its website — helped to make the frog something of a “mascot” for some Trump supporters on the Internet.
Now, thanks to the Pepe tweet, Wendy’s is the subject of some very different headlines, like this one from Mic: “Wendy’s just tweeted the Pepe the Frog meme, a white supremacist mascot.”
The Wendy’s Pepe has since been deleted.
How did this happen? There are a few possibilities here: 1) Wendy’s was trying to wink at alt-right trolls online to get them to buy Wendy’s food, 2) Wendy’s was trying to get more attention in the viral news cycle by winking at alt-right trolls online (and then apologizing for it, thereby completing the outrage cycle), or 3) Wendy’s, despite cultivating a Twitter persona of Internet culture competence and knowledge of even some of the most fleeting memes, had missed the biggest meme-related news story of 2016. For the record, Wendy’s says that the third scenario is correct.
“Our community manager was unaware of the recent evolution of the Pepe meme’s meaning,” the brand account tweeted in reply to a question about the Wendy’s Pepe, “and this tweet was promptly deleted.”
The Wendy’s Twitter account, like all brands on social media, isn’t really a part of the community it has learned how to imitate. The Pepe tweet was just the inevitable result of this reality. So please, as good as some brands can be at their best on Twitter, use caution when making them your Internet hero.