You Know How This All Ends, Don't You?

Image: Burger King

Brands — they’re just like us, only thirstier. This week, Pornhub sent out a press release claiming it was “extremely interested” in buying Tumblr, the distressed blogging platform Verizon is reportedly looking to unload.

TechCrunch explained why this is a bad idea, but there’s a more fundamental question here: Sure, it has the money, but is Pornhub full of crap?

The company is notorious for its publicity seeking. In 2018 alone, Pornhub announced an interactive art installation, a free leaf removal program and lifetime premium memberships for residents of towns with “suggestive” names.

We asked Pornhub whether it was in talks with Verizon or if it had made a formal bid on Tumblr, but haven’t received a response.

While Pornhub might be the noisiest, it’s hardly the only corporate attention hound online. With a long, low groan, you might remember Oreo’s cookie drones, the Wendy’s nuggets teen and IHOP’s “IHOb” bull.

This week in the US Burger King revealed a new line of alt-mood meals, including the “Pissed Meal”, the “DGAF Meal” and the “YAAAS Meal”, a campaign supposedly tied to Mental Health Awareness Month.

If I were Burger King, I’d probably want to downplay my company’s rich association with human piss, but the intent here is clear: BK wants you to know it’s irreverent, relatable and, above all, fun!

Sad legacy brands that don’t have money to burn on weird stunts can achieve a similar effect by hiring 20-somethings to run their social media accounts. These corporate cosplayers will then provide authentic interactions with fans, haters and other 20-somethings representing sad legacy brands, for some reason.

Steak-umm, Moon Pie and Sunny Delight built large Twitter followings this way, the companies behind them having basically picked a random graduating class and told them, “OK, your group chat is supposed to sell Funyuns now.”

This strategy has its own risks. Just this week, Chase Bank (the recipient of a $US25 billion [$36 billion] US taxpayer bailout in 2008) deleted a meme-y tweet shaming us little people for our poor financial choices.

Screenshot: Twitter

But Chase’s real mistake wasn’t insulting its customers. It was doing so too early. As big brands continue to advance corporate personhood by exploring the full range of human experience online, it’s inevitable that their tone will become openly belligerent — and we’ll probably love it.

Last year, Pornhub and Disney both tweeted messages to fans who were “dead inside”. And social media users now regularly ask their celebrity crushes to murder them in some fashion.

Pretty soon, McDonald’s will be telling you to order a blue burger off its Avatar-themed menu “or I will personally beat the crap out of you, coward”.

Our relationship with brands is simple: They want us to buy stuff. If we keep rewarding them with attention for being “funny” and “authentic”, it’s only a matter of time before this subtext becomes the message they scream in our ears.

Eye-grabbing real world stunts are sure to follow. Expect Burger King to start serving “Total Sucker” and “Buy Me” Meals. One day, a lolly company asks you to vote for your favourite Skittle. The next, you’re entering a contest to be tazed by the green M&M.

Years ago, at a different job, I was tasked with working on a list of corporate Twitter accounts that are “actually funny”. At the time, it seemed embarrassing, but ultimately harmless. I don’t think I’ll feel the same way when a bank tweets that it’s “now accepting miserable paypigs to drain” and gets 40,000 likes.

Go ahead, laugh it up while you can. And if you want a vision of the future, imagine a Minion stamping on a human face — forever.

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