I was sitting on my couch watching TV the other day when suddenly an advertisement which I had not seen in eons came on. It began like many other ads with a young, charismatic spokesperson clutching on to a spicy chicken sandwich whilst delivering memorized lines to the camera. What followed next was a montage of different archetypes which were expected to be “impressed” by the sandwich.
It began with “The Memer,” a nerdy fellow with thick glasses who froze up like a still image while an entourage of white, bolded letters plastered themselves onto the screen. What was spelled out, you may ask? Well, it was nothing other than the cheesy quote, “Eats Spicy Goodness Like A Boss.” As if that wasn’t already corny enough, what followed was a display of “The Selfiers,” your stereotypical white girls with Valley girl accents and a desire to capture the moment for social media with their selfie sticks. The last archetype was none other than “The Behind The Timester,” effectively represented by a man using ‘outdated’ phrases like “this sandwich is the bomb,” and “raise the roof” in an attempt to be hip.
Unfortunately for the producers of this commercial, their ‘relatable’ marketing gimmick did not necessarily succeed, for I did not get the urge to go buy a Wendy’s Jalapeno Spicy Chicken Sandwich. However, it did spark a certain curiosity within me – not about how cringy moments can be so memorable – but how significant fast food and its advertisements were not only for me but also for other young people.
While Wendy’s fast-food advertisement team warm-heartedly poked fun at cheesy people who turned things into memes, took selfies, and used ancient phrases, they did all of this without having a clue as to the irony that would hit them later. As it turns out, many people soon found the advertisement as cringy as the “The Memer” persona was. In addition to this, the criticisms it received from other social media users were similar to the criticism that “The Selfiers” would be expected to receive. Moreover, this attempt at being relatable would be considered a mirror image of the pathetic effort made by the “The Behind The Timester” to be modern. I say these things not to shame anyone, but to reminisce over unforgettable stunts like these and the humbling reactions from netizens which made all the difference in my younger years.
To say that fast food had no impact on my life would be a complete lie. As a teen raised in America by immigrant parents, those nights when we could afford a cheap meal from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or any other fast-food giant meant quite a lot to me. At this moment, you might be recalling your very own fast-food adventures. It could have been a night out with the family which usually meant dinner would be ten times better than whatever you had at home, or it could have been 2am trips to the drive-thru. This isn’t even mentioning spontaneous cravings after school or any other random occasion that called for fast food, like debate. During moments like these, coach telling us to go wild with our choices while only being able to afford an ice cream felt like they happened just yesterday (love you, coach). And although unhealthy, an occasional fast-food meal was undeniably filling, tasty, and if nothing else, served as an opportunity to bond with others. You’d be surprised to find the impact that seemingly ‘pointless’ trips had on my perception of the middle-class childhood experience. The same goes for many close friends of mine.
Of all things on this grand Earth, I would assume that fast-food companies and their marketing teams would be aware of these kinds of experiences. And if not, they would be missing out on further impacting our young impressionable minds.
One marketing tactic that comes to my young impressionable mind is Wendy’s use of Twitter roasts. I recall how they would regularly make fun of or ‘flame’ other fast-food chains with Twitter quips. As far as I can see, the brand showing itself off as trendier and more daring was well received. Was it slightly corny? Yes. But was it satisfying to see the brand knock other fast-food chains down a notch? I would argue yes. Another example I can readily think of is the McDonald’s Travis Scott meal. I found McDonald’s advertising approach – with its unique use of Robot Chicken-style clay animation – to be quite tasteful. And while the sight of miniature Travis Scott wiggling with a fry did come off as a little corny, there was no way I was going to lose my appetite when YouTuber TheReportOfTheWeek found the meal entertaining enough to review it.
“TheReportOfTheWeek,” or “Reviewbrah” as some would call him (I prefer the former name) is a social media personality that uses his YouTube channel to sample food and share his often-controversial critiques. His rise in popularity was likely due to the juxtaposition between his mannerisms – fancy and proper while wearing tailored suits – and the food he was trying – KFC’s Beyond Nuggets, just to name one example. His concept and persona are wholesome to me, and I find it fascinating how the entertainment I receive from fast-food media can extend to food reviews.
Speaking of food reviews, I wish you could hear me laughing as I type out how McDonald’s made a fortune with the infamous Grimace Shake. What started off as the release of a new purple milkshake for Grimace’s birthday – McDonald’s signature purple monster – soon turned into a dark TikTok trend that included a food review-style introduction to the shake, followed by an astonishingly twisted death. Fully committed to the act, some people would even risk treading around in filthy sewer drains or literally having a plastic bag on their head, all while drenched in the ‘mysterious’ purple liquid. When I think back on it, although I don’t condone the danger that some chose to take, the mind-boggling creativity that it took this generation to uphold the Grimace Shake lore and horror trend still blows me away.
So, while it may dismay me that fast-food chains are no strangers to the power of social media for advancing their marketing, that is not to say that this power will always be used with malicious intent. Instead, I would rather focus on the naive ‘cringe’ or bewildering factor that some of these advertisements have. In a way, it is reminiscent of Vine and Musical.ly humor that used to entertain us for hours on end. And while fast-food advertisements will continue to be made, and I will continue to grow old and lose that soft spot I used to have for them, this is not entirely disheartening to me. Through the interactions I have had with my younger siblings, I have no doubt that teens in the upcoming generation will also find themselves wolfing down some burger or other fast-food item (those heathens), and soon discover the magic of unhinged social media and advertisement humor.