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Parodying people for profit : When brands act like one of us

There’s no question that we’re surrounded by advertisements, and the obvious truth is that we don’t really care about it. From product placement in our favorite shows and movies to the panel ads on an overcrowded REXL, ads are a quotidian feature of our lives. Most ads are boring and make no bones about it, but there’s always been a cutting edge form of advertising that plays on the popular thought of the time. 

It has become easy to tune out the never-ending stream of commercials, so the more “normal” an ad can feel among the content or in a space we actually enjoy, the better we may feel about that product. This is one of the guiding principles of guerrilla marketing, which was popularized in the 1980s. 

Guerrilla marketing, which relied on creating a surprising experience for the consumer in a public place, has evolved and shifted over time. The most common progeny of the guerrilla marketing tactics is viral marketing, which manifests itself most deviously when adhering to the rules of stealth marketing.

Viral marketing “seeks to spread information about a product or service from person to person by word of mouth or sharing via the internet or email,” according to Investopedia. Harkening back to its roots in guerrilla tactics, this takes place in the internet’s most prominent public space, social media. And to put it lightly, in the last few years it’s gotten ... weird. 

Twitter may be the platform that best embodies the current public commons of the internet without skewing into Baby Boomer aesthetics the way Facebook does. There’s less of a need to put on a good face like you may have to on Instagram, and there’s more permanence to the statements made than what you’ll find on Snapchat. The site is continually turning into a sounding board for people to air their most political, absurd, humorous, vulgar and dark thoughts. As Twitter evolves, brands have followed these trends, for better or worse. 

It’s disconcerting to see the way the brand Sunny D presents itself on TV, with bright commercials usually showing active kids running themselves weary, to their presence on Twitter. At the beginning of this month, the Sunny D account somberly tweeted “I can’t do this anymore.” For such an unsettling and cryptic message, it blew up, amassing more than 152,000 retweets. 

Brands like Pop-Tarts and Pornhub responded, offering hugs and tissues respectively. You know we’re in the darkest timeline when there are multimillion-dollar corporations roleplaying as people working through a depressive episode.

As these brands continue to parody non-commercial communication, it cheapens the actual dialogue we have on the internet. No matter how old fashioned you are, to say that what happens on the internet doesn’t matter is a hard case to make. 

We may have just started to descend down this increasingly inane rabbit hole, and the question is whether stealthy viral marketing  campaigns will cheapen the brands, the platforms or the people. The passion for profit might skew the supposed ideals of “connection” that are espoused by the CEOs of these social media platforms. An article by The Washington Post details the simple truth, that the best and worst of the internet are our twisted creation. 

“Even the most sophisticated screens — iPads, Kindles, Androids — ultimately become nothing but mirrors. They can’t invent realities, only reflect the ones in front of them. This column is not about what we’re doing online. It’s about how whatever we’re doing online is either shaping who we’ll become or explaining who we’ve always been.”

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