The Sinister Evolution of Corporate Marketing and it’s Humanization
What is the purpose of a corporation? In most instances, a corporation’s purpose is to act as a vehicle to extract maximum profit at whatever cost, usually without moral objections. For this article, I will focus on the extraction of maximum profit for shareholders through the lens of modern era marketing. To clarify my stance, I see modern era marketing as something entirely different from traditional marketing. In my view, modern marketing is accomplished via the exploitation of trust in public figures, and the use of the sustained presence, to carve an ever-present, finely tuned image of the brand in the minds of the masses.
One example of this idea of modern marketing is the existence of corporate brand Twitter accounts. Contrary to popular belief, these accounts are not run by underpaid interns bored at their job, posting memes to attempt to stay relevant. No. These tweets are reviewed by teams of social media experts, paid to find the best way to secure a place in your mind. The irony presented in the content when a tweet or meme references its own brand status is not organic nor original. It is artificially and lifelessly crafted into the memes to present a different image of what is truly occurring within the account. Social media managers for large companies have stated that the combined total salary of all the people writing brand tweets could reach an approximation of one million dollars (Insider). These accounts use memes that are “fresh” (new and relevant) as humorous instruments to convey information in a way that promotes higher traffic to their page. They make fun of their own existence through ironic memes deprecating the very concept of brand Twitter accounts while simultaneously advertising through them. Until now, it seems that the “marketing” I have described is no more than companies posting harmless memes for entertainment. Unfortunately, the issue is not this simple. I argue that due to the widespread acceptance of these practices - and the tendency for many to treat the brand’s social media account as an interaction with a single individual - marketing will become far more subtle and manipulative.
This anthropomorphism of these brands is extremely dangerous to online interaction as the brand has one single interest in mind: to attract customers. While humans are multifaceted beings with different opinions on different topics, the problem with brands on social media is that they present themselves as a single person, while actually carefully tuning their presence for the sole goal of attracting customers. The argument is not that social media meme posts or replies to comments by KFC, Netflix, or Wendy’s would somehow make people instantly gain brand loyalty to that brand. Instead, I argue that by manufacturing their tweets to go viral, something that should happen organically through genuine interaction with human users, these companies are able to gain a subliminally influential presence in places they would otherwise not have access to and exploit this presence by controlling the narrative around their brand. Once the brand has established itself, it can create its own brand identity schema, a well-studied scholarly concept that attaches certain qualities, beliefs, and moods to the feeling around brands. A simple google search will reveal the plethora of research programmes that corporations have funded to maximize their sustained presence in our collective conscience. This should not be normalized.
Unfortunately, Twitter brand accounts are a much smaller concern in modern corporate marketing than issues such as influencer sponsorships. While Twitter brand accounts create a subliminal presence, influencer sponsorships exploit the trust followers have in public figures. The way that sponsorships on social media platforms work are likely unique to many. Companies will send a product or service to a person with a large following on social media such as Youtube, TikTok, or Instagram, sometimes accompanied by monetary compensation, in exchange for the influencer featuring the product on their social media. There are two categories of this occurrence: the most forgivable and lowest level of sponsorship is the one commonly found on Youtube. A Youtube content creator will sell 10-30 seconds of the video to include an advertisement for a good or service and then will continue on with their content that is entirely unrelated to the advertisement at hand.
This type of sponsorship is not an issue until it leans into the region of non-disclosure. In a regular ad sponsorship, it is clear which section of the video is an ad, and which section of the video is original content. The issue presents itself when these videos begin to include product placement and purchased brand time in their content itself. This blurs the line between their own opinions and the opinions of the company paying them. People trust content creators more than an advertisement because brands only exist to sell things. When a TikTok star artificially includes a unique stuffed animal or a specific app into their video after being paid to do so while presenting it as their own recommendation, it is a subversion of free thought. One example of this common occurrence on TikTok is the rise of the “mood octopus.” This is a novelty reversible octopus plushie that supposedly shows one’s mood. Solely through content creator advertisements on TikTok, this octopus has sold over one million pieces. Apps, games, and toys, are also advertised through this very method, and the data shows that it works very effectively.
Overall, everyone should be wary now about recommendations given by figures online. The only way to counter this type of omnipresence, subversion, and exploitation of trust is to ensure that one is cognizant of it. Companies and corporations will try and gain a favorable image in people’s minds, not to be a good brand or a friend, but to gain profits. They want to extract profit from you, and if it means presenting themselves on Twitter as friendly people or buying a place in Youtube videos, so be it.