Are the Brands OK?
McDonald's masterful handling of the "Grimace Shake" TikTok trend makes Pizza Hut's "stuffed-crustussy" post look that much more like a cringe flop.
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Presently: A tale of two brands navigating the world of social media.
Posting on LinkedIn, McDonald’s Head of Social Media Guillaume Huin shared some behind-the-scenes info about the brand’s month-long embrace of Ronald McDonaldverse supporting character Grimace, its birthday, and the limited-time Grimace Shake menu item.
If you missed the Grimace Shake trend, Polygon has a pretty solid round-up explaining it, so please check that out. The tl;dr is that some creators on TikTok started a trend of making short-form horror films in which they take a sip from the shake while wishing Grimace a happy birthday before cutting to a shot where something horrible has happened to them. As someone with a weird sense of humor, I loved it. Check out some of the examples in this compilation:
As this trend pushed on, I couldn’t help but wonder what the people at McDonald’s thought of the trend. On one hand, this was organic, earned media. On the other hand, you don’t want to become the next Tide Pods and have to step in and ask people to stop making jokes. (Very few people actually tried to eat the laundry detergent pods, and the collective freak-out over social media jokes probably made things worse, not better.)
McDonald’s decision to take a mostly hands-off approach to the Grimace shake trend seemed to be a good one.
Here’s what Huin had to say on LinkedIn (bolded emphasis mine):
Here is an insider view from the social media team of what happened:
- if you think we planted the grimace shake trend, thank you. So much. But you think way too highly of us. This was a level of genius creativity and organic fun that I could never dream about or plan for - it was all from the fans, and the fans only, and the initial spark came from Austin Frazier. Our "only responsibility" in helping the trend happen was giving the "tools" to play with, reintroducing Grimace, the shake and going all in in letting the character take over our accounts. With a particular tone of voice, attitude, "way of typinggg" and taking badly cropped and blurry selfies.
- if you think we would never acknowledge the trend, well, I thought so too at first, so I won't blame you. Honestly, I think my very first text to the team and agencies was "not sure we should jump in". It took us a bit of time to process what was happening. The campaign was already wildly successful, both on a social and business standpoint, so why would we take the "risk" to jump in? But hours of watching, reading the comments, trying to learn and genuinely understand helped us see what this was about: brilliant creativity, unfiltered fun, peak absurdist gen z humor, just the way a new generation of creators and consumers play with brands. I've seen videos which levels of production and craft made me smile silently in admiration and wonder. I've seen fan arts that made us send dozen of emails and texts to friends and colleagues saying "omg did you see that"? We then discussed what was the right thing to do about the trend: saying nothing felt disconnected, encouraging it felt self-serving, so we just decided to show our fans that we see them and their creativity in a sweet, candid and genuine way, as grimace would. The same way you would respectfully and gently nod at someone, without repeating what they said to show you agree with them and stealing their thunder. I must also say thank you to our leadership, PR and legal teams for being open, seeking to understand and trust the teams. Was there a lot of questions, sentiment analysis tools, listening dashboards and emails? More than I can count. Was there doubt? Immense doubt. Did we still move forward and get full support up to our top leadership? Sure did.
A one of a kind campaign :
- Billions in reach, millions in engagements, millions of mentions
- Top trend at least 8 different days on twitter
- Top 3 hashtags on tiktok and trend on snapchat for multiple days
- and more importantly, so many internal teams, agencies and fans genuinely loving grimace and having fun
Thank you, Grimace. We miss youuu.
On the other end of the social media spectrum, there’s Pizza Hut, the brand that flew too close to the sun on wings of mozzarella.
Brands are still attempting to find their "voice" over on Threads, the most recent social media platform run by billionaires who are just as evil but slightly less unhinged than the person in charge of Twitter. The first few days of the platform were dominated by prompt tweets and, uh, whatever this is:
On Friday, the official account for Pizza Hut went just a bit too far into “How do you do, fellow kids?” mode, posting, “What’s your favorite part of Pizza? Mind is the stuffed-crustussy.”
There weren’t a ton of likes or replies on the post, but the reactions fell into two neatly separated camps: 1.) people who didn’t get the joke and responded to the question, and 2.) people who got the joke, and responded with a bit of horror. I fell into the second group, posting these in the replies:
“Stuffed-crustussy” is a play on the “-ussy” meme. I’ll let Know Your Meme explain it (it’s a bit NSFW, btw):
Ussy refers to the suffix "-ussy," used to make portmanteaus with the word "pussy." The internet slang trend predates meme history, surfacing in LGBTQ+ discourse as early as the late 1980s with the word Bussy. Other iterations have since appeared like Nussy, Thrussy, Thussy and the meme template Who Need They Pussy Ate? Memes emerged in abundance in late 2021 about Words That End In -Ussy.
The first known portmanteau with the suffix "-ussy" was Bussy, originally added to Urban Dictionary on March 7th, 2004, by user four_stave_score, where over the course of eighteen years, it's received over 500 likes (shown below). The definition labels it as a mix of "butthole" and "pussy," but most definitions label it as a portmanteau of "boy" and "pussy," referring to the hole of a bottom.
Multiple definitions of the word note that the word had been used by the queer community starting in the early 1990s or late 1980s. An exact origin is unknown, however.
The word remained a fixture of the gay cultural lexicon but did not begin seeing widespread usage online until the mid-00s. On December 22nd, 2014, Twitter user @lohanthony tweeted, "i hate when people ask me if i'm a boy or a girl… bitch you KNOW i'm a boy…. now come over here and eat this bussy…" The tweet received more than 4,000 likes and 850 retweets, becoming the first tweet featuring the word to top 1,000 likes (shown below).
Here’s another example of that:
So naturally, when Pizza Hut started talking about “stuffed-crustussy,” my first thought was, “Wait, what do they want us to do with the pizza?” Amy Brown, who used to run the Wendy’s Twitter account between 2012 and 2017, responded to Pizza Hut’s post with an edited version of a well-known dril tweet.
The jokes were all in good fun, a playful response to an “extremely online” joke that may have flown over people’s heads. It was a big swing, but a big miss on Pizza Hut’s part—but that’s okay! Personally, I think Pizza Hut should have just rolled with it, but sadly, the “stuffed-crustussy” post was not long for this world and was deleted from the brand’s account sometime on Saturday. RIP stuffed-crustussy!
On Reflection: The YouTube Effect, the artificial Twitter experience, and anti-union propaganda
Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating an audience Q&A with director Alex Winter at a Chicago screening of his new film, The YouTube Effect.
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