Haasch: Millennial pandering works, so long as it’s authentic

Brands can successfully connect with younger generations by speaking their language.

Palmer Haasch

On Nov. 1, the official Burger King account tweeted the following exchange: “him: it’s only a month / waifu: ………..” followed by the sobbing emoji. I had to reread the tweet a few times before I realized Burger King had ostensibly tweeted about No-Nut November. I have some feelings about it: confusion, resignation and awestruck rapture. In that particular order.

For those who aren’t familiar, No-Nut November is a meme that riffs off other November campaigns like “No-Shave November.” No-Nut November isn’t supposed to bring awareness to any particular cause, but is rather centered about the valiant effort of … not nutting (or, in more particular terms, not orgasming). Understanding the exchange requires a particular kind of internet fluency that hinges upon comprehension of the word “waifu,” which is a typically sexualized term thrown around in anime communities in references to characters that viewers claim as their wife (think full-size anime body pillows). This begs the following question: how the hell does this make any sense? Or, more particularly: What does Burger King gain from making a joke catering to a very specific audience?

Brands and public figures attempting to cater to the millennial and Generation Z audience is nothing new. One of the most salient recent examples is a disastrous Hillary Clinton tweet circa 2015, which read, “How does your student loan debt make you feel? Tell us in 3 emojis or less.” It was a blatant attempt to cater to social-media entrenched millennials that inadvertently trivialized a major millennial issue. On a similar note was Clinton’s iconic, “I don’t know who created Pokémon Go, but I’d try to figure out how to have them Pokémon Go to the polls.”

On the other hand, millennial pandering done right can bring a solid amount of clout to a brand. Several weeks ago, Steak-umm posted a surprisingly meta rant on Twitter, beginning with the question, “Why are so many young people flocking to brands on social media for love, guidance and attention?” It proceeded to explore the particular kind of loneliness that arises from social media immersion and simultaneous dread of the future. The thread received nearly 13,000 retweets and significant media attention.

I didn’t even know what Steak-umm was. It sounded like the kind of noncommittal answer you’d get when asking an underpaid employee at an inexpensive restaurant what kind of meat they have on the menu. Now, not only do I know what Steak-umm is, but, admittedly, I also feel a kind of kinship with the brand itself. Minimally, the millennial social media manager has managed to strike a chord with me, and frankly, it makes me more likely to give the product a second thought.

Other brands have also managed to rise to social media notoriety through apparent millennial pandering: Denny’s is famous for absurdly hilarious Tumblr posts (one reads, “*tips waitress* m’bacon”), and MoonPie tweets with a consistent kind of bleak humor that never fails to get me. I won’t pretend that pandering to millennial and Generation Z audiences doesn’t work, but it will only be successful when it feels authentic. Those with meme-based internet fluency are quick to recognize and call out those who don’t “get it,” but the payoff for successful attempts to be relatable is high. I, for one, will never forget Burger King using the word waifu in a tweet. Never.