Op-Ed: Building Brands, Not Memes

Op-Ed: Building Brands, Not Memes

In this era of social media, relevancy is our currency. Luckily for our industry, food will always be relevant—unless we as humans figure out how to photosynthesize like plants or swap out body parts for robotic stomachs and guts and kidneys.

While this fact should empower our marketing movements, especially on platforms like Twitter and Instagram, I think we’re still adapting. Social media can be an effective tool to showcase authentic, fully-realized brands, but in overzealous hands, it’s easy to overdraw from the relevancy account and instead create a caricature of the consumer—and, by extension, the brand.

Take fast food companies, for example. They are arguably some of the biggest torchbearers lighting the possible paths of the future of social media marketing in the food space. These are massive corporations that have amassed equally as massive followings crossing time, language, and culture—and yet, their Twitter feeds, Instagram timelines, and digital advertising of late are riddled with the language, memes, and trends circulated by millennials (ages 23 to 40) and Generation Z (ages 4 to 24), the people who grew up alongside the rise of social media.

As a result, in a bid to be “relevant,” we all know not to come for Wendy’s on Twitter unless we’re ready to apply immediate burn cream. We were all equally confused when KFC introduced its new, hot young Colonel. And we all get the astrology reference when Chipotle tweets, “I’m a sofritas rising and a guac moon, hbu?”

These brands—minus Chipotle—are not millennials or Generation Z. They are writers of the fast food and fast casual canon, having helped build these sectors of the food industry more than 50 years ago. And while these brands are carving out their niche in the spectrum of relevancy, playing with different voices and personalities to connect with their audiences, there’s a difference between differentiation for clout and differentiation because there simply is no other way for a brand to be itself.

Depending on which way the wind blows, where we are in the moon cycle, and which Google results populate to the top of any given search, I am either the backstop of the millennial generation or the first year of Generation Z—and I am just not sure if I relate to, or am even looking to relate to, these companies, try as they might to wield memes and trendy posts to their advantage.

Unless their brand is embodying a meme—particularly the Steve Buscemi one in which he sports a backwards hat and a “band” T-shirt and asks, “How do you do, fellow kids?”—I am not sure I know who these brands are as fast food companies from the way they present themselves on social media.

But, there is still room for improvement—and in this middle ground between relevancy and authenticity, the produce industry can become one of the food sector’s marketing torchbearers.

...There’s a difference between differentiation for clout and differentiation because there simply is no other way for a brand to be itself.

And, as we do so, here is my question: Is it better to be kitschy and fleeting or authentic and lasting?

Or, an even better question is, who are you? As we explore this all-encompassing, existential question, I think the journey, the trek through every facet of our companies to find out who exactly we are, is where that marketing magic is going to happen. And with that journey, we’ll build brands that don’t leave consumers—any consumer, from any generation—ever so slightly wanting.

So, what does this mean for social media marketing within our industry of fresh produce? I think it leaves space to play, to be ourselves and ask that our consumers do the same.

I think as brand builders, we know how to connect with our audience—and it all starts with just being ourselves. Because, as the saying goes, everyone else is already taken—on social media and otherwise. 

Op-Ed: Building Brands, Not Memes