Sam Fogel: "Baby Nut" and the perversion of the relatable tweet

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 10:07am

Super Bowl ads. People love them, and they’re a huge spectacle. I know a couple people who solely tune in for the ads, not caring for the game but fascinated with the corporate creativity on display. I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of sporting events, but all the buzz surrounding the Super Bowl makes it nearly impossible to stay uninformed. I was unamused by most of the commercials, but one in particular really ticked me off. The commercial in question? The Planters commercial, where they revealed their new mascot, “Baby Nut,” after their longtime mascot Mr. Peanut supposedly died. Killing off Mr. Peanut was a shameless move that embodies everything insidious and pathetic about corporate marketing. Planter’s first post on Instagram about the new mascot was literally a plug for merchandise, hinting at their intentions of monetizing before the day was over. 

The move by Planters was obviously inspired by all of the theatrics surrounding Baby Yoda, the 50-year-old infant from Disney’s “The Mandalorian.” Baby Yoda is suspiciously similar to a character in Disney’s other purchased franchise, Marvel’s Baby Groot. The Verge wrote an article summing up the various trends this decade that have been related to babies, showing the infantilization fever. Executives at Planters wanted to cash in on that trend, and they have no qualms letting the world know. It’s uninspired and insulting that they think people are going to tolerate this drivel. But contrary to my assumptions, the Internet ate it up with a surprising fervor.

Some of the Super Bowl ads are avant-garde and break the mold, but others just play upon empathy to get you thinking about their product. An example of this would be this years Budweiser commercial. The commercial plays on the stereotypical “typical American,” showing scenes of heroism and heartwarming reunions. A deployed soldier reuniting with his father. A firefighter putting out a fire in California. Sure, none of those images are inherently bad. But what do they have to do with Budweiser? They call themselves a “typical American” beer, as if those exceptional moments are uniquely tied to Budweiser’s product. It doesn’t change the low quality of the product they sell. Just like Baby Nut, it’s shameless and manipulative.

One commercial that’s even more insulting is Walmart’s, which attempts to evoke empathy. “We see united towns,” they say. They’re a champion for small town America, and they love all the communities there. Walmart loves you! Except they don’t. It’s widely known that Walmart destroys local businesses, taking jobs down with them and causing even more destruction if they ever decide to leave. Such was the case for Edna, Texas. After a Walmart opened up in 1982, they replaced the need for local retailers and pharmacists. Out of nowhere, just last year, the store closed. It left people scrambling for places to get the goods needed. This isn’t an isolated case, either. In 2018, Walmart closed 63 stores after they raised wages, leaving workers jobless. Many of their employees have a wage below the poverty line, which adds insult to injury. If anything, Walmart is an enemy of small towns and their livelihoods. The commercial is downright malicious in the way it tries to convince the American populace that they are anything but corporate hegemony. 

All of this is adjacent to how brands work on Twitter. Have you ever seen those tweets by a verified company that try to use a meme to get you to buy their product? Their tweets always make sure to be humorous, but tepid enough not to tarnish their brand name. The genesis of this trend seems to be the Wendy’s Twitter account, which in 2017 caught the social media network by storm when they began “roasting” people, insulting not only their competitors but individuals who dared question their hegemony. Plenty of compilations have been made about their “epic roasts,” essentially giving the company loads of free advertising. Personally, a corporation with such power and influence more than I’ll ever realistically have in my life punching down your average Twitter user rubs me the wrong way. Wendy’s has bigger problems to worry about, such as their violation of child labor laws.

This isn’t an issue many care about, but for me it’s hard to be complacent with the infiltration of focus-tested banal garbage that litters social media feeds. It’s downright insulting and I can’t even begin to imagine how many underpaid interns have been assigned to spitting the repugnant drivel that comes out of these accounts. Corporations are not people, and they’re certainly not a buddy you exchange relatable tweets with. They want your patronage, and will coax you into a Pavlovian relationship that can’t be reversed. Corporations are not your friend, and they never will be.

Sam Fogel can be reached at samfogel@umich.edu.