In this day and age, the hip trend is for fast food restaurants to take ownership of their shit-quality products by adopting sassy, teen-friendly social media presences. And what do the teens love? [Countless adolescents shout “MEMES” and dab in unison.]
The “we’re a cool self-aware food conglomerate” thing started years back with Denny’s and Taco Bell and has now seeped its way into the board room of Wendy’s. The mediocre burger chain is now trying desperately to leverage voicey #engagement to increase brand favorability and awareness among their target demographics in key urban areas of influence. Thus far its been a steady if predictable ride.
Just before 11am EST today, though, whoever the hell runs Wendy’s Twitter account responded to the request “got any memes?” with a Pepe made to look like the burger mascot, complete with retina-scorchingly pale skin, freckles, and cartoon red pigtails. Memes! Original content! The kids will love this one, someone living under a rock for the past year must have thought.
Pepe, a cartoon frog originally created by Matt Furie for his comic Boy’s Club, has had a terrifically long run as a meme, buoyed through many internet epochs by edits and recontextualization. The most recent rebirth of Pepe involve the frog being coopted by fringe nationalist groups online—leading to the Anti Defamation League and Furie himself starting the #SavePepe campaign to reclaim the sad amphibian from hateful internet dickheads. Yikes!
It didn’t take long for Trump supporters on Reddit to celebrate (and then mourn) a major brand seemingly speaking their language. The tweet itself inspired criticism and joy from varying parties, and its deletion sent moralizing assholes on both sides into a tailspin.
This is far from the first time Wendy’s has made reference to Pepe on social media. But there was almost certainly no malice behind a community manager taking the time to whip up a Wendy Pepe in MS Paint. It does, however, reveal that whatever young brand ambassador the company hired as ignorant of contemporary internet culture. Even if “the majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted,” as the Anti Defamation League puts it, Pepe’s days of innocence are long over.
That, or Wendy’s is totally full of shit and their community manager went rogue. In any case, someone who is paid to be hip online did a very un-hip thing, and we can all laugh at how non-traditional marketing strategies do nothing to disguise the stupidity of massive corporations.
Not how I would have phrased it, but sure, good enough.
Update 1/4/17 2:09pm EST: Guess who just endorsed Wendy’s as their official burger chain of choice? The fucking Daily Stormer, that’s who! The neo-Nazi site described Wendy’s official response to the now-deleted meme tweet as “a frog whistle, straight up. And we need to embrace them for it.”
“Everyone knows that Pepe is a Nazi frog,” the site’s founder Andrew Anglin wrote in a blog post today, “As companies continue to send signals to the Alt-Right, I will continue to endorse them.”
Remember when a bad tweet was just a fireable offense, rather than a message to be misinterpreted as racist code by intolerant fascists? The halcyon days, truly.
Correction: The article originally referred to Matt Furie’s comic as Boy’s Life—which is an actual thing, but not one he made. Boy’s Club is the name of his work, and the copy has been amended to reflect this.