in article about marketing, a Wendy's meme

The Friendly Allure of Brand Marketing Is Painfully Intentional

To grab the attention of would-be customers, companies often try to give off the air of casual relatability — a pose that, in reality, has been carefully constructed.
September 22, 2021
6 mins read

If you regularly engage with media, you’re exposed to upward of 4,000 ads a day. That’s 4,000 chances to court your favor in one way or the other. Every advertisement simultaneously competes for its viewer’s attention — but not all can win it. So, what’s a marketing team to do? If a consumer is pelted with such a constant influx of exciting new commodities, the only real difference between a good product and a bad one is its presentation.

In accordance with this unspoken rule of thumb, advertisements evolve. Gone are the informational bullet-list newspaper clippings, replaced by the explosive and the dynamic — television advertisements that are too weird to ignore and pop-ups on website margins that fill half the computer screen.

What makes an advertisement effective? In a visual medium, designers consider not only what is visually striking, but also what is conducive to the marketed product’s intended atmosphere as well. Whereas bright, bold colors and lots of quick and successive shots might be effective for an energy drink commercial, it would be less appropriate for a public service announcement on the health impacts of chewing tobacco.

On the internet, radio or TV, the role of sound shapes the presentation of an ad. Music, sound effects and the presenter’s tone of voice will determine the way an ad is interpreted by its audience, and this plays in partnership with what visual elements there may be — media is, after all, a multisensory experience.

Media advertising is in no small part composed of short, frequent bursts of visual and audio content, but the goal of advertising itself is to leave an impact on the viewer. If marketing is a well-developed art, and its most reliable and effective selling points are already common knowledge, then how can an advertisement stand out from the competition?

The key is just that — an impact on the viewer. When you see the same ad for the newest MacBook Pro over and over, it starts to grate on your mind, but it leaves an impact. You will remember that MacBook, as well as the music, the logo and the brand that go along with it. That way, maybe when you next visit your local electronics store and you see that now-familiar product on display, its element of recognition will give it a leg up over the competition. Advertisers aren’t necessarily looking to convince any potential consumer to leap up from their couch and dash to the store, but rather, to leave a distinct, favorable imprint. Familiarity breeds contentment.

Contentment breeds familiarity, as well. As the public grows savvy to their overexposure to marketed goods, the novelty of this previous approach fades. The evolution of a disillusioned consumer base is from then on out not all too surprising. People want to be amazed, and amazement comes from the unexpected.

Perhaps this disillusionment is helped along in part by the nature of advertising itself. Marketing could be defined as an impersonal practice, something of a public spectacle broadcasted by a larger-than-life corporation to its many onlookers. But this is certainly no fact, nor is it an absolute.

Advertising is the basis of much of modern society’s convenience, and it serves as an effective tool of entrepreneurship. However, it can be easy to begin to feel at the mercy of whichever monopolies peddle for your attention. To be advertised to can feel condescending, as though your choices are being made for you. And yet, with the pervasive presence of a relative few corporate entities that hold the majority of the global market, it’s just as easy to feel as though there’s no choice to make at all.

The tendency for a large-scale ad campaign to feel insincere is no doubt a concern to those who want to advertise effectively. Thankfully, due to the global prevalence of the internet, marketing is easier than ever. And who better to market to than the internet’s own favorite demographic: teenagers!

Social media is more than just a platform to share niche memes among friends. Now, thanks to widespread access, brands and franchises can now share niche memes with their millions of followers.

Brand Twitter,” the self-described corner of the internet home to a sizeable number of memorable names, saw its rise to stardom over the late 2010s. Pioneering this brave new form of outreach was popular fast-food chain Wendy’s, whose titular Twitter account started out as a then-novel experiment in brand evolution. Advertising through social media was no new endeavor, but Wendy’s did something none had quite done before — they created for themselves a corporate-wide personality.

Around 2016, their account gained popularity for its roasts. From dunking on rival food chains to insulting passersby, Wendy’s was quickly gaining ground — and followers. The image of a professional, corporate name doling out snarky comebacks like a rebellious teen elucidated something beyond a non-descript corporation. Rather, it was almost like there was a face behind the screen, a bored intern taking stabs for a joke.

This image is, still, the product of a carefully planned and executed method of advertisement — and a successful one at that. Following the success of Wendy’s Twitter account, other brands began to follow suit, including names like Ben & Jerry’s and MoonPie. So far, this approach seems to be effective, with such accounts amassing huge numbers of followers.

Still, it feels inevitable that the same jaded feeling that comes from repeated marketing tactics will catch up anytime. Some already begin to grow disenchanted with the fake connection that this “relatable brand” trend fosters. After all, a corporation is a corporation, regardless of whether or not they make funny jokes on Twitter. It’s okay to enjoy the marketing approaches that large brands take — that is intentional, after all — but the wariness that often accompanies it is all understandable. Few are trusting enough to believe that a brand is their friend, and that in itself is perhaps a blessing.

Beth Nipper, University of Iowa

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Beth Nipper

University of Iowa

Beth is an art major who hopes to one day be an FX animator. She loves art, history and art history. Beth is thankful for libraries.

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