Should we be worried about the person behind the Steak-Umm corporate Twitter account? On Wednesday, Steak-Umm tweeted a manifesto to millennial angst that covered mental health, underemployment, student loan debt, media addiction and generational disconnection. It was extremely real. It connected with a lot of people. It came from the maker of thinly sliced frozen steaks.
Steak-Umm’s rant — complete with a few clever puns like “making ends meat” — outlined both the problems that young people face, and meta-analyzed its own role in them. It could easily anticipate the reaction that followed: How is a frozen meat company so relatable? Why am I feeling these feelings? How does a sliced beef brand empathize with my desire to scream into the void? Is 2018 the worst year ever? Are Steak-Umm and “Zendaya is Meechee” the only places to turn to on the Internet right now that don’t make me want to burn everything to the ground?
Of course, that’s what Steak-Umm wants you to think. Its message may have been soothing to people who are going through some stuff — which, given the week we’re having, is pretty much everyone, am I right? — but all of this is marketing, plain and simple. You might not have had a positive view of Steak-Umm before this. You might not have thought of Steak-Umm at all.
Cultivating a particular social media voice is a powerful strategy, and it’s one that works well for food brands — especially fast food, convenience items or nostalgic childhood favorites. It is sardonic and a little bit nihilistic, emulating a comedy style that has come to be known as “Weird Twitter.” It reads as if the clinically depressed social media manager behind it has been let loose.
A master of the form is @MoonPie:
Even though studies show millennials are turned off by brands that try too hard in their marketing, this voice — which pretends not to be trying at all, even though it is obviously trying very, very hard — seems to resonate with followers. And brands with a cheeky voice and a following look for opportunities to delight customers, like when Hershey’s engineered a viral tweet about Kit Kats into a marriage proposal. “These new, personal bonds between companies and customers feel uncanny — the brands are not real human friends, exactly, but neither are they faceless corporations anymore,” Ian Bogost wrote in an Atlantic story titled “Brands are not our friends.” “Isn’t that the point, though? Branding’s purpose is to get under your skin.”
Steak-Umm has certainly succeeded. “I really needed to hear that today. Comparing my self-worth to my peers who all have higher paying jobs, less dysfunctional families, more friends. It’s maddening,” replied one user. “That is not the level of deep insight into societal instability I expected from Twitter this morning,” said another. “Also, I’ve never tried your stuff before but will seek it out now.”
We are all beeflings now. Steak-Umm bless.
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